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Corruption Chronicles

Federal Government Watchdogs Under Fire

The watchdogs charged with exposing wrongdoing inside federal government agencies aren’t independent enough and often face retaliation and scrutiny or are too politically connected to conduct effective investigations.

Many of the 64 agency inspector generals have been involved in controversies in recent years that have prevented them from doing the work Congress intended when it created the watchdogs three decades ago in response to a series of government corruption scandals. The underlying goal is to fight waste, fraud and abuse in government.

But lately, the inspectors have themselves come under fire for their work or behavior. Last year alone, six inspector generals were investigated by their peers or scrutinized by members of Congress and three left their job. Three others quit abruptly amid investigations of misconduct within their own office.

Among them was State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, who quit in December after several lawmakers accused him of hampering investigations of widespread wrongdoing in Iraq. Around the same time, the FBI launched a probe into the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (Stuart Bowen) for misspending money and accessing employees’ electronic mail.

Others include Commerce Department Inspector General Johnnie Frazier, who quit in June after being accused by employees of demoting whistle blowers and misspending government money and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Inspector General Robert Cobb whose cozy relationship with NASA leadership led him to actively interfere with investigations.

In the wake of these scandals, lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that will guard against firing an inspector general for political reasons, require agencies to notify Congress of funding requests to prevent weakening of investigations through budget cuts and prohibit bonuses for the inspector generals.


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