In a recent POGO report, we broke down the challenges facing the Integrity Committee, which is the entity responsible for overseeing the federal inspectors general system. Our report also offered several recommendations to improve the committee’s ability to hold inspectors general and their senior staff accountable for misconduct. While we urge Congress and the Integrity Committee to work together to implement these important reforms, we also want to give credit where credit is due and highlight recent steps the committee has taken to better meet its mission.
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Increased Transparency and Accountability
First, we are encouraged to see that the Integrity Committee is working to ensure its decision-making process is more transparent. The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) demonstrated this recently by issuing a new transparency policy that went into effect in October, which would increase the Integrity Committee’s ability to communicate about its work. It does this by opening up new ways of using the Integrity Committee Management System, the committee’s method of maintaining its records.
Specifically, the transparency policy identifies eight new “routine uses” of that system, meaning it expands the current list of legitimate reasons to publicly share information. Notably, these routine uses may include communicating to the public when a matter becomes public knowledge, when the Integrity Committee chairperson determines that disclosure of a matter is necessary to preserve confidence in the committee, or when the committee chairperson determines that there is a legitimate public interest. The Integrity Committee signaling that it recognizes the need for this level of transparency should reassure lawmakers and the general public that the committee is taking a thoughtful, measured approach to disclosing information when possible.
This new policy has the potential to be an invaluable resource when it comes to better understanding the Integrity Committee’s processes. According to the Federal Register notice, this system may contain internal communications that are used in the course of responding to complaints the committee receives, investigating individuals suspected of wrongdoing, referring matters out to partner organizations, and making recommendations to the president or an agency head.
Second, we also recognize and applaud the Integrity Committee’s addendum to their 2018 Policies and Procedures. The addendum, which went into effect in 2021, grants the Integrity Committee the ability to make an independent finding of wrongdoing against inspectors general or their senior staff who fail to cooperate in a timely fashion with an Integrity Committee investigation. This means that inspectors general who drag their feet when it comes to complying with an Integrity Committee request for certain records, documents, witnesses, or other information can be held accountable.
It’s unfortunate that such an addendum was necessary at all. However, we appreciate the Integrity Committee’s efforts to address a gap in its procedures. We also support the Integrity Committee’s efforts to ensure that it has other resources and tools necessary to do its job efficiently and effectively. For example, POGO has for many years, and most recently in our report, advocated for lawmakers to grant CIGIE a direct congressional appropriation. Currently, the Integrity Committee receives piecemeal funding from its member offices of inspectors general, which are subject to change from fiscal year to fiscal year. A stable and consistent source of funding would allow the Integrity Committee to conduct the kind of long-term strategic planning necessary to properly oversee the inspectors general system.
A Step Forward
Between the newly implemented transparency policy and the addendum to the Integrity Committee’s Policies and Procedures, we are hopeful that the Integrity Committee will continue to refine its internal processes to ensure that it can not only fulfill its critical mission of holding inspectors general accountable, but can also proactively restore public trust in the federal government when wrongdoing does occur. We look forward to working with the Integrity Committee to hone and implement the recommendations outlined in our report, in addition to identifying further areas of potential collaboration to strengthen the inspectors general oversight system and encouraging Congress to support those efforts.