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Holding the Government Accountable

Legislation Aims to Fix Bad OLC Decision that Stymies IGs

(Photo: Peter Eimon / Flickr)

“[W]hen Congress passed the Inspector General Act in 1978, we explicitly said that [Inspectors General] should have access to ALL agency records.” (Emphasis in original)

Yesterday, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took to the Senate Floor to deliver prepared remarks on his bill, the Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015 (S. 579). The bill aims to expand the independence of Inspector General (IG) offices and reiterates that in order to conduct oversight the IG should have access to all agency records.

As stated above, under the original Inspector General Act of 1978, IGs were given access to all agency records. However, beginning in 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other agencies began vetting and redacting sensitive documents before giving them to Inspectors General (IG), increasing the amount of time it took for IGs to receive those documents and slowing down the oversight process.

This past July, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), a DOJ office that provides legal advice to the executive branch, handed down an opinion that said the DOJ IG does not have unfettered access to all of the agency’s documents. In essence, the opinion meant that all doesn’t mean all. The Project On Government Oversight’s Danielle Brian testified against this impediment to oversight at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in August.

Following that hearing, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives sent a letter to both DOJ and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to ask for legislative proposals to address this issue. Senator Grassley pointed out that CIGIE responded within two weeks, with a proposal that satisfied the request, and the authors of S. 579 incorporated the language into the legislation. DOJ’s response came three months later and “is clearly inadequate and would leave in place a threat to the independence of all other Offices of Inspector General,” according to CIGIE.

POGO is grateful to Senator Grassley and the eleven bipartisan cosponsors of S. 579 for leading the charge to make sure that IGs have access to the records they need to do their jobs.