Long-standing inspector general (IG) vacancies at several federal agencies, including the Departments of the Interior and Veterans Affairs, undermine the IG’s role as a critical government watchdog, Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Executive Director Danielle Brian told a Senate Committee on Wednesday.
Temporary IGs often lack the aggressiveness and independence of a permanent IG who has been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, Brian told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“POGO believes it is no coincidence that so many long-time acting IGs have found their independence called into question on front pages of newspapers across the country—especially when those acting officials make it known they are auditioning for the role of permanent IG,” Brian said.
In particular, she called out the IG office at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA IG position has been vacant since Dec. 31, 2013. The tenure of the acting IG, Richard Griffin, has been marked with controversy, scandal and a lack of transparency.
Brian also highlighted the fact that there was no permanent IG at the State Department during Secretary Clinton’s entire four-year tenure, and suggested that an insider at the agency would have felt more comfortable blowing the whistle on Clinton’s refusal to use government email had there been a real watchdog in place.
Among the seven IG vacancies for presidentially appointed positions, the longest vacancy is at the Department of the Interior, which has been led by an acting IG since Feb. 23, 2009, or nearly 2,300 days. Of the seven vacancies, three have nominees and are awaiting Senate confirmation.
“In the early days of the Obama Administration, I was able to speak with senior officials in the White House counsel’s office to discuss potential IG nominees,” Brian said. “The last time I reached out, it appeared I was dealing with White House interns. My personal experience seems to reflect this Administration’s growing ambivalence toward IGs in general.”
Brian also outlined some recommendations to address IG vacancies and improve IG effectiveness, including a proposal to revamp the reporting requirements for IG offices so that the metrics are more meaningful and reflective of the information that Congress and agencies actually need.