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De-Fanging the Watchdogs

As if Congressional oversight isn�t already regarded right now as a complete joke, here comes an astonishing report in The Hill yesterday:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a top Bush administration official urged Republican investigators on Capitol Hill to change how they conduct probes of the executive branch in a private meeting earlier this spring.

The unusual request infuriated some of the GOP aides, who countered that the administration has repeatedly failed to cooperate with their requests for information. The staffers expressed outrage that the meeting was even taking place, calling it inappropriate for a White House policymaker to tell investigators how to scrutinize the Bush administration.

In 2004, Inspectors General were given similar instructions by the same White House official (Clay Johnson) in a memo (pdf) that was reported on by Paul Singer of the National Journal. Inspectors General were created by Congress to be their front line watchdogs inside Executive Branch agencies, with responsibility to report to both the Congress and the heads of each agency. Yet, that memo instructed:

Surprises are to be avoided. With very limited exceptions primarily related to investigations, the OIG should keep the Agency advised of its work and its findings on a timely basis, and strive to provide information helpful to the Agency at the earliest stage possible�OIG [Office of Inspector General] and Agency management will work cooperatively in identifying the most important areas of OIG work�.

Now, in the spirit of bi-partisan fair share blame, let us remember that a similar �let�s all get along� meeting happened under the Clinton Administration with OMB Deputy Director Alice Rivlin.  A follow up memo (pdf) from Rivlin stated:

To put it simply, the IG�s have pledge to focus more on whether Federal programs are working (the "big picture") and less on identifying individual, minor infractions or procedures (the "gotchas").

These were strongly nuanced ways of telling the IGs to back off, avoid controversy, and be a team player within their agencies, despite the fact that their mandate is to conduct independent oversight and root out cases of fraud, waste, and corruption.

By: Beth Daley
Director of Investigations, POGO

At the time of publication, Beth Daley was the Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Beth Daley

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