Committee Advances Bill to Protect IGs from Political Retaliation

May 25, 2021
In The News

On Tuesday afternoon, a House committee approved a bill that would protect federal watchdogs from political retaliation. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee took up the IG Independence and Empowerment Act, introduced last month by the panel’s chairwoman, Democratic members, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. While many presidents have had contentious relationships with IGs, many of former President Trump’s actions toward the watchdogs were unprecedented and this bill would address the issues raised during his administration. 

This is a “package of critical reforms to strengthen the independence and authority of federal inspectors general,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., committee chairwoman, during the meeting. “Supporting IGs and ensuring they can perform their work with independence and access to information has long been a bipartisan issue on this committee.”

In a statement upon the bill’s introduction, she said, “Inspectors general are needed now more than ever to provide accountability for the over $5 trillion spent by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Specifically, the bill––which would amend the 1978 Inspector General Act––would do the following:

  • Only allow IGs to be removed for cause;
  • Require a president to notify Congress before an IG is put on non-duty status;
  • Require only current IGs or senior IG staff to serve as acting IGs;
  • Add information the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency must include in its reports to Congress and make more of its information available to Congress;
  • Give IGs the authority to subpoena witnesses who aren’t current government employees (such as those who previously served in government); 
  • Allow the Justice Department IG to investigate misconduct by the department’s attorneys instead of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility;
  • Expand whistleblower training for employees in IG offices and IGs themselves;  
  • Require notifications to Congress and CIGIE about an IG’s ongoing investigations when an IG is put on non-duty status;
  • Give CIGIE a single appropriation; and,
  • Require IGs to alert Congress if agencies deny their access to information requested. 

Many of these provisions are from bills previously introduced during the 116th Congress. This bill was introduced ahead of a hearing on April 20 about restoring independence to IGs, during which experts and IGs stressed the need for many of these reforms. 

“We must ensure that all of our inspectors general have the tools they need to conduct robust oversight of their respective agencies,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the committee. “Parts of this bill are steps in the right direction, but many of us remain concerned about some of the provisions in this bill.” He objected to the provisions regarding presidents removing IGs, limitations on who can serve as acting IGs and subpoena authority for IGs. 

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., introduced an amendment to remove those “poison pills.” 

“The ranking member wants us to forget four years of history where at least seven IGs were summarily removed and influence brought to bear to quash independent examinations that were legitimate subjects of inquiry by independent inspectors general,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the committee’s panel on Government Operations. However, this bill is not just about what happened during the Trump administration, but also about the “future,” he said.  

Maloney pointed out, “These provisions were passed by the committee and House in 2018 in a Republican-led bill and included compromises worked out on a bipartisan basis.” 

Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., then introduced an amendment that would modify the provision on subpoena authority. 

In both situations, the amendments were voted down by voice vote and the lawmakers asked for a recorded vote. Both amendments failed again when a roll call vote was taken.

The National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute and Project on Government Oversight submitted letters to the committee supporting many aspects of the legislation ahead of the meeting, as did Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz. 

“The work of our independent federal watchdogs—inspectors general —has continually resulted in substantial financial savings for the federal government,” Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO, wrote on May 19. “For example, the self-reported return on investment in fiscal year 2020 was $17 for every $1 spent on IG activities.” 

However, “that is not to say that the system has reached its full potential,” she noted. “Especially at a time when the public is gravely concerned about government corruption, it is critical that these watchdogs have the resources, independence, and accountability they need to root out all forms of corruption in our government.”