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Senate Questions IG Report on Secret Service Prostitution ScandalTweet
September 26, 2013
It was a story that made international headlines: 13 Secret Service agents hired prostitutes on a booze-filled night during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia. The incident, which took place in April, 2012, prompted an internal investigation. Recent allegations, though, suggest that the inspector general (IG) in charge intentionally withheld information from his public report and delayed the release of his findings until after the 2012 election.
According to an article published in The Washington Times, a Senate panel including Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) initiated the probe after they received complaints from whistleblowers. Reportedly, Charles Edwards, the acting IG at the Department of Homeland Security, was “susceptible to political pressure” during his investigation from John Sandweg, the former general counsel for the Homeland Security Secretary.
In a letter to Edwards dated June 27, 2013, Senators McCaskill and Johnson write that they “have been alerted by numerous whistleblowers to allegations of misconduct and abuse.” The accusations include that he “shared confidential whistleblower information with agency officials” and “used administrative leave to penalize employees who questioned or brought attention to [his] actions and instructions.” Edwards, in response, denies any wrongdoing and says the probe may get in the way of his job.
In The Washington Times article, James Carafano, senior defense and homeland security fellow with the Heritage Foundation, says an even larger concern raised by this case is the degree to which inspector generals may be susceptible to political pressure.
Part of our system of liberty is creating mechanisms to sort out wrongdoing. This is the canary in the mine shaft, and if investigators become politically susceptible, the system is failing. It's like judges making up their own laws.
POGO also reported on the concerning number of IG vacancies in its report, Where Are All the Watchdogs? The page points out that many important IG positions– like Edwards’–are held by acting or interim officers who may lack independence and effectiveness.
Permanent IGs undergo significant vetting—especially the IGs that require Senate confirmation—before taking their position. That vetting process helps to instill confidence among OIG stakeholders—Congress, agency officials, whistleblowers, and the public—that the OIG is truly independent and that its investigations and audits are accurate and credible.
In addition, a permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities. An acting official, on the other hand, is known by all OIG staff to be temporary, which one former IG has argued “can have a debilitating effect on [an] OIG, particularly over a lengthy period.”
Inspectors general play a critical role in government oversight. It is of the utmost importance that these vital oversight offices can perform their duties independently.
Avery Kleinman is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.
Topics: Government Accountability
Authors: Avery Kleinman
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Podcast: Exploring Transparency for Oil and Gas Extraction
Mia Steinle talks about POGO's involvement in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the hurdles to increased transparency for oil, gas and hard rock minerals here in the U.S.