FEBRUARY 26, 2013
Government corruption is at an all-time high, yet President Obama continues to delay filling a number of openings at crucial internal watchdog offices that are supposed to weed out fraud and waste at federal agencies.
Congress created the office of inspector general more than three decades ago to investigate cases of wrongdoing inside government agencies. In all, 64 agencies have an inspector general to fight waste, fraud and abuse. Nearly half—the biggest and most important—are appointed by the president and all are supposed to be politically independent, but that’s hardly been the case.
A few years go a number of inspectors general came under fire and faced retaliation and scrutiny after exposing wrongdoing at the agencies they were charged with investigating. This led Congress to contemplate legislation to protect the watchdogs by, among other things, requiring the president to notify Congress 30 days before firing an inspector general to guard against terminations for political reasons.
President Obama has taken it a step further by simply allowing crucial watchdog posts to go vacant for years, frustrating both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The story was uncovered this week by a conservative news publication that reports lawmakers are growing impatient with the rare, prolonged vacancies at the Pentagon, State, Interior, Homeland Security and Labor departments.
In mid 2008 Judicial Watch reported how the Pentagon Inspector General was cut to part-time during a period when the agency was rocked by huge contract scandals. The Pentagon was in the midst of an investigation into waste and abuse in southwest Asia and the Middle East and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars had been wasted because the agency lost track of many of the 60,000 private contractors supporting the U.S. military in the region.
Now a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators are demanding the president fill the watchdog position at the Pentagon and the other key agencies. In a letter cited in the story, the senators write that “a sustained absence of permanent leadership is not healthy for any office – particularly one entrusted with as important and challenging a mission as an Office of Inspector General. Inspectors general occupy a unique role – tasked with speaking truth to power and with dual reporting obligations to their agency head and to Congress. Those unique pressures may be especially challenging for an acting inspector general, serving without the endorsement of presidential selection and Senate confirmation.”
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