Two high-ranking Republican Senators recently criticized 13 federal agencies for hamstringing their own respective inspectors general (IGs), who serve as the agencies' independent watchdogs.
Following the results of an April survey of 69 federal inspectors general, which asked whether they had encountered any interference from the agencies they were charged with monitoring, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently issued letters to the 13 agencies whose IGs suggested that they had received a lack of complete cooperation, whether in the form of blocked access to information or bureaucratic barriers that impeded effective investigations. Among those agencies receiving letters were business and financial divisions like the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Commerce.
"Inspectors General can't conduct effective oversight of tax dollars and programs when the very agencies subject to the oversight impose delays, red tape, and roadblocks," said Grassley. "To let this continue in the executive branch is letting the fox decide who gets in the henhouse."
The letters asked each agency head to explain some of the more serious allegations leveled by the IGs in their responses to the original survey. Among them were allegations that the SBA's IG encountered significant delays on 13 projects, even having to request the same information over 16 times per project and experiencing delays in excess of 11 months. The Senators' letter to the Treasury also outlined an instance where an IG was denied unrestricted access to information from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for use in investigations of possible fraud by failed financial institutions, while the letter to the Commerce Department accused the agency of broadly "filtering" the IG's access to information.
"Good government starts with good oversight. When officials block investigations they do nothing more than protect the people and processes that waste billions of taxpayer dollars every year," said Coburn. "Inspectors General are the unsung heroes of Washington. Every day they fight battles to save taxpayers money. Officials who would deny them the documents and information they need to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, are doing the American people a great disservice and cannot be called public servants."
The other agencies receiving letters were the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Library of Congress, the National Labor Relations Board, the Social Security Administration and the Department of State.
Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer