Reintroduced Bipartisan Bill Will Protect Inspectors General

This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

On March 4, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) reintroduced the Securing Inspector General Independence Act, which would strengthen the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. The new Act requires any administration to give “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” before removing an inspector general (IG), according to the press release.

The Securing Inspector General Independence Act also “limits the use of administrative leave for IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement.” The press release states that both the Obama and Trump administrations “used administrative leave to effectively silence IGs during the 30-day period.” Additionally, the bill provides training on whistleblower rights to IG employees and “requires acting IGs to be selected from among senior-level employees within the watchdog community.”

Through these requirements, the Act would clarify the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act which “requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG to prevent politically-motivated terminations.” Sen. Grassley’s press release explains that the Obama administration fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin without providing sufficient details as Congress had intended under the law…A court later ruled that the administration wasn’t required to provide additional reasons prior to removing an IG — a case cited by the Trump administration when it initially refused to provide details following the removal of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick.”

“There’s really only bad precedent from prior administrations ignoring the inspector general protection law,” said Sen. Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Worse still is that a court upheld an Obama administration action, and the Trump administration was able to apply the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. Our bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the president decides to remove an IG, and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees,” Sen. Grassley continued in the press release.

The role of the inspector general’s office in government agencies is to identify government oversight and help fight fraud. The office of the inspector general is also responsible for hearing whistleblower complaints from agency employees. As an example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) website explains that the OIG’s Whistleblower Protection Coordinator also educates HHS employees about their whistleblower rights.

“It isn’t talked about enough, but the roles of whistleblowers and inspectors general are symbiotic. Securing inspector general independence helps keep good government consistent and provides whistleblowers the ability to continue coming forward to combat waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement to WNN.

“Inspectors General are essential to helping Congress save taxpayer dollars and hold government accountable to the American people,” Sen. Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in the press release. “These hardworking agency watchdogs must be allowed to do their jobs without political interference. After the last four years, we need to make certain that future Administrations are not able to interfere with Inspector General investigations. I’m proud to help lead this important, bipartisan effort to safeguard the independence of Inspectors General and ensure that these watchdogs are better able to hold federal agencies accountable.”

The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

Additionally, the Inspector General Reform Act is endorsed by whistleblower advocacy groups the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) and the Government Accountability Project, as well as the Partnership for Public Service and the Senior Executive Association. Additionally, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency “was consulted during the bill’s development.”

Read the proposed Inspector General Reform Act in full here. 

View Sen. Grassley’s press release here.