Understanding Oversight Gaps in Congress

Legislative Branch Inspectors General Coverage and Coordination
(Illustration: Renzo Velez / POGO; Photos: Getty Images)

Chairman Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, and Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on closing the gaps in legislative branch inspectors general coverage and coordination. I am Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). POGO is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing. We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.

Inspectors general (IGs) provide independent, professional, and nonpartisan oversight over various government operations, helping to uncover evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, and malfeasance. The inspector general system that was established for the executive branch in 1978 has largely been a success. Similarly independent watchdogs are also uniquely positioned to provide objective oversight of legislative branch components.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol laid bare the urgent need to increase coordination across Congress and its agencies related to cybersecurity and information sharing. Currently, congressional information and technology is too often managed on an ad-hoc basis and in multiple silos. The legislative inspector general community is not immune to those challenges.

Within the legislative branch, there are a number of information, technology, and cybersecurity gaps in inspector general coverage. There are currently five inspectors general situated within legislative branch agencies: the inspector general for the Library of Congress, the inspector general for the United States Capitol Police, the inspector general for the Government Accountability Office, the inspector general for the Government Publishing Office, and the inspector general for the Architect of the Capitol.1

However, significant offices remain without oversight, including the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, the Office of Attending Physician, and others. Additionally, while the rules of the House establish an inspector general for the House of Representatives, there is no similar inspector general overseeing the work of the Senate.2

And even when individual watchdogs are in place, gaps in the legislative inspector general system can limit their efficacy. There is no coordinating council for legislative branch inspectors general that enables information sharing and the creation of best practices standards, as the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) does for executive branch IGs.3 Perhaps most importantly, current legislative IGs may lack sufficient independence to best enable rigorous oversight.4

With all of this in mind, I urge the Appropriations Committee to request the Government Accountability Office to produce a report examining the gaps in independent oversight within the legislative branch inspector general system. Specifically, the report shall determine these gaps, identify conflict areas and offices that are not covered, and make recommendations around structures and best practices to properly protect IG independence within the legislative branch, using the executive branch as a model where it may be helpful. In doing so, I would encourage the GAO to consult with CIGIE and other internal and external stakeholders with expertise around inspectors general. Given the urgency around these issues, I would recommend the committee ask for such a report to be published no later than 180 days after the passage of the Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations Bill.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit this testimony.