Freeing the WatchmenOctober 2, 2007 - by Donny Shaw
UPDATE: The bill discussed below has officially been passed by the House. The vote was a bipartisan 404-11, but only after a couple of amendments were approved that basically gut the bill’s most substantial provisions. The amendments are described at this bottom of the post.
Through legislation and investigation, the 110th Congress has worked hard on removing political influence from the offices of U.S. Attorneys. Today they are turning their depoliticizing effort to the offices of Inspector Generals.
This afternoon, Congressman Jim Cooper’s (D-TN) bill, the Improving Government Accountability Act, will be taken up by the House. Inspector Generals (IGs) are investigators that work within government agencies to detect misconduct, fraud, waste, inefficiencies, and ensure that they are complying with established policies. As accountability is key in making sure that the government acts honestly and effectively in working for the people it represents, Cooper’s bill proposes several changes to the law relating to IGs so they can work towards accountability as best they can, without fear of
First, it would place new restrictions on the President’s ability to fire Inspector Generals. Currently, the President can remove an IG for any reason whatsoever — all he is required to do is to communicate his reason to Congress, but it doesn’t have to be in writing and there is no time limit for him to do so. Cooper’s bill would provide that IGs can only be fired for specific set of reasons: (1) Permanent incapacity. (2) Inefficiency. (3) Neglect of duty. (4) Malfeasance. (5) Conviction of a felony or conduct involving moral turpitude. Through a series of cases, the Supreme Court has held congressional restraints on firing such as these constitutional, yet President Bush objects to this provision because, he says, it is an “intrusion on the President’s removal authority and his ability to hold IGs accountable for their performance.” On Monday, the President officially threatened (pdf) to veto the bill if it is passed by both the House and Senate.
Another provision in the bill would require IGs to give their initial budget requests for programs under their jurisdiction to both Congress and the President. Currently, they report only to the Administration, via the Office of Management and Budget, and when Congress gets handed the President’s annual budget request, they have no idea whether his numbers represent an increase or decrease from the IGs’ recommendations. And since Inspector Generals have first-hand experience working with government programs and agencies, their impression of the funding levels that are needed for the next year are extremely important. If Congress has this information, they’ll be able to make more informed decisions when they draft their own budget proposals. It would go a long way towards bringing more transparency to the highly-politicized budgeting process.
There are several other interesting provisions proposed in this bill, such as the creation of an independent Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, and the fine folks at the Project On Government Oversight discuss them here. Be sure to check them out and take note of their slick usage of our bill status widget.
From CongressDaily($), the two amendments that were unanimously approved on the House floor:
>The bill passed two amendments intended to address key concerns raised by the White House and OMB in a veto threat the administration issued Monday. One amendment, by House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., eliminates a provision in the bill that would allow IGs to send their budgets directly to Congress, a step intended to free them from interference by agency heads who may oppose IG investigations. The White House has said that provision infringes on executive authority. Davis’ amendment, approved by voice vote, eliminated the provision but allows IGs to inform Congress if a budget cut threatens their ability to fulfill their mission. Under the amendment, the budget would also list the original budget requests of inspectors general.
>The White House has argued that another provision limiting the circumstances in which IGs can be fired would make it too difficult to remove them. Accordingly, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., that expanded the circumstances allowing for the firing of an IG.