DECEMBER 05, 2014
The “independent” watchdogs that are supposed to root out waste, fraud and corruption inside U.S. government agencies often help cover it up, according to a scandalous newspaper exposé that reveals sometimes they actually become the lapdogs of the agencies they’re charged with overseeing.
Published this month by the capital area’s conservative newspaper, the four-part series exposes the state of inspectors general tasked with keeping an eye on the government. In all there are 72 inspectors general—with heads appointed by the president—thanks to a decades-old law that passed with strong bipartisan support in Congress. The idea is to have a completely autonomous office that has total access to all materials without conflict of interest or fear of retaliation. The findings are then to be shared with Congress and ultimately the American public.
Instead, the watchdogs soft-peddle their findings, whitewash reports and bury evidence of wrongdoing, according to congressional investigations and reports by outside groups cited in the news articles. In fact, for decades the perennial complaint has been that too often the IGs “can become lapdogs of agency management.” For instance, in the past two years IGs at half a dozen cabinet-level agencies have been accused of retaliating against whistleblowers or softening their findings to protect department executives or the White House.
Furthermore, the series reveals that damning information about high-level misconduct has been scrubbed from recent inspector general reports at crucial agencies such as the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior. As an example one of the stories mentions the Department of Veterans Affairs, where the IG is in trouble for downplaying whistleblower claims and absolving the VA of blame for patient deaths. “Even investigators within IG offices have faced retaliation for reporting internal wrongdoing or attempts to withhold embarrassing findings, according to congressional reports,” the story says.
Jolting as the details in the news series may seem, this sort of thing has been going on among federal agency watchdogs for many years. Judicial Watch has reported on this repeatedly and in fact, back in 2007 wrote that the IG scandals were so rampant that a group of bipartisan U.S. Senators introduced legislation to clean up the offices. At the time former and current employees at inspector general offices disclosed that the watchdogs worked too closely with leaders of the agencies they investigated and that many succumbed to political pressure from the Bush administration. Among them was State Department IG Howard Krongard, who quit amid accusations of hampering investigations of widespread wrongdoing in Iraq. Commerce Department IG Johnnie Frazier also quit after being accused by employees of demoting whistleblowers and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) IG Robert Cobb got busted interfering with investigations because he had a cozy relationship with NASA leadership.
Years later nothing has changed to root out persisting problems at these crucial entities responsible for exposing wrongdoing inside the federal government. Under President Obama many of the biggest agencies with the largest budgets have gone without adequate oversight for years because the commander-in-chief didn’t bother appointing permanent IGs. Among them are the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Labor. The high-level agencies that for years have gone without a watchdog account for about $843 billion in annual spending, nearly a quarter of the entire federal budget.
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