"One of the most significant post-Watergate reforms was the passage in 1978 of the Inspector General Act (IG Act), which has put in place 72 federal inspectors general to serve as agency watchdogs responsible for ensuring the integrity and efficiency of our government’s operations.
For decades, there was no controversy over what the words “all records” meant. But that changed in 2010 when FBI attorneys suggested, soon after several critical reports by my office as inspector general at the Justice Department, that “all records” might not include some records the FBI was seeking to withhold. This was the first time anyone in the department had asserted that the broad powers of the IG Act did not apply fully to our oversight.
Not surprisingly, once the FBI started raising legal challenges, several other federal agencies challenged their IGs’ independent oversight authority. For example, when the Peace Corps inspector general sought to review the agency’s response to sexual assaults against corps volunteers — oversight that was mandated by Congress — the agency put in place policies that prevented IG access to key records.
Making matters worse, recently an arm of the Justice Department issued a 68-page opinion that supported the FBI’s position and concluded that IGs do not have the right to independently access certain records involving grand jury testimony, wiretap information and some credit reports, no matter how critical they might be to our oversight. Indeed, these kinds of records have been central to some of our most significant reviews of FBI and Justice Department programs, and for more than 21 years the department had provided them to us without once accusing us of not properly safeguarding them. As a result of this decision, it is now up to agency officials to decide whether to grant, or refuse, an IG permission to review these types of records. This leads to the absurd situation where the words “all records” in the IG Act no longer mean “all records.”
Without independent access to agency records, our ability as IGs to conduct the kind of sensitive reviews that have resulted in widespread improvements in the effectiveness of government programs will be significantly compromised. For example, since 2010, many of my office’s most important reviews, including those affecting public safety, national security, civil liberties and even whistleblower retaliation, have been impeded or delayed.
Allowing officials whose agencies are under review to decide what documents an inspector general can have turns the IG Act on its head and is fundamentally inconsistent with the independence that is necessary for effective and credible oversight.
This safeguard was vital when Congress passed the IG Act in 1978, and it remains vital today. Actions that limit or delay an inspector general’s access can have profoundly negative consequences for our work: They make us less effective, encourage other agencies to raise similar objections and erode the morale of our dedicated professionals. As chair of the Council of Inspectors General, I know that inspectors general everywhere are deeply concerned about this attack on our independence.
Thankfully, a substantial bipartisan group in Congress shares our view that the IG Act must not be interpreted in a way that would render it toothless. Pending legislation in the Senate, S. 579, and the House, H.R. 2395, would restore IG independence and empower IGs to conduct the kind of rigorous, independent and thorough oversight that taxpayers expect. I urge Congress to pass legislation quickly that clarifies that “all records” means “all records” and reject any interpretation that would allow government agencies to shield their misdeeds from inspector general oversight and, more importantly, from the American people." [S579-not passed as of 12/17/17; HB 2395-passed in House, referred to Senate. No action after that per govtrack]
"To read more on this topic":
5/22/2012, The Post’s View: The missing inspectors general
9/26/2013, National Security Agency needs an independent inspector general
12/23/2011, The Post’s View: A need for more inspector generals
Added: 2014 Editorial
8/7/2014, "Inspectors General say Obama aides obstruct investigations," Washington Examiner Editorial
"Billions of tax dollars are being lost every day to waste, fraud, and corruption in the federal government, but President Obama's administration is blocking inspectors general— the officials who are most likely to find and expose such wrongdoing — from doing their jobs. That’s the disturbing message given to Congress and the American people this week from a majority of the federal government’s 78 IGs. The blocking occurs when agency lawyers deny the authority of IGs to gain access to relevant documents and officials.
The 47 IGs minced no words: “Each of us strongly supports the principle that an inspector general must have complete, unfiltered, and timely access to all information and materials available to the agency that relate to that IG’s oversight activities, without unreasonable administrative burdens. The importance of this principle, which was codified by Congress in Section 6(a)(1) of the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended (the IG Act), cannot be overstated. Refusing, restricting, or delaying an IG's access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency’s performance.”
Three specific examples were described in the IGs' letter, including blatant obstruction of important investigations at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and the Peace Corps.
But many other IGs have “faced similar obstacles to their work, whether on a claim that some other law or principle trumped the clear mandate of the IG Act or by the agency’s imposition of unnecessarily burdensome administrative conditions on access.
Even when we are ultimately able to resolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities.”
The experience of Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz is especially outrageous. In a Senate hearing in April, Horowitz said his office must go through Attorney General Eric Holder to gain access to DOJ documents and officials.
Giving Holder the power to veto an IG's access in that manner egregiously violates the 1978 law and other statutes. Obstruction like Holder’s risks “leaving the agencies insulated from scrutiny and unacceptably vulnerable to mismanagement and misconduct – the very problems that our offices were established to review and that the American people expect us to be able to address,” the IGs said in their letter to Congress.
It is impossible to know exactly how much the federal bureaucracy loses every year to waste, fraud and corruption. Credible estimates put the total at more than $200 billion, but in a $3.5 trillion budget it could easily far exceed that amount. Every time an IG is barred from gaining access to vital documents or officials, it encourages even more wrongdoing.
Congress must get tough with people in the executive branch who obstruct IGs from doing their jobs. And when it’s the attorney general doing the obstructing, it’s time to bring back independent prosecutors."
Comment: Nice article until the last paragraph: "Congress must get tough." Obviously, Congress has made clear it will never "get tough" on fellow government cronies especially in the administrative state. They may sometimes pretend they're outraged about something taxpayers might be outraged about, but it's just for show. Above all, they were never going to "get tough" on anything involving Obama. They agreed with everything he did.