Committee Chairmen Demand Briefing after Inadequate Response from Commerce Inspector General
Dec 04, 2019
Washington – Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), respectively chairmen of the Senate Finance, Commerce and Government Affairs Committees, are together seeking more fulsome answers in response to an August letter from Senator Grassley which raised concerns about staff departures, low morale and low productivity at the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The joint letter was prompted by a response from the Inspector General on September 27, which failed to answer some of Chairman Grassley’s questions.
“The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars every year and performs a variety of critical functions related to our nation's economic growth and development...,” the senators wrote. “We believe that a strong and effective Commerce OIG is necessary to ensuring proper oversight of the Department and its functions.”
In August of this year, Grassley requested information about OIG’s organizational structure, employment statistics, budget requests, documents regarding human resources challenges and information about recent corrective action and steps taken to improve the problems. These requests were based on concerns raised by nearly a dozen whistleblowers and a recent government-conducted survey which showed that the OIG had some of the lowest levels of employee satisfaction in the federal government and indicated a consistent, year-over-year decline the past several years. Additionally, the OIG’s most recent semiannual reports to Congress have shown declining levels of productivity.
In their letter this week, the chairmen push for more fulsome responses to questions and document requests. They also seek a staff briefing directly from the inspector general’s office by December 13.
Full text of the letter from Chairmen Grassley, Wicker and Johnson follows or can be found HERE.
The Honorable Peggy E. Gustafson
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave N.W.
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Inspector General Gustafson:
As the Chairmen of the undersigned committees, we share the concerns raised in Senator Grassley’s August 20, 2019, letter to you.  At this point, staff from our committees have had the opportunity to review your response dated September 27, 2019, and the supporting documentation that you provided.
Based on this review, it appears that your September 27 response fails to fully address all of the questions posed in Senator Grassley’s letter. The information provided does not include enough context for us to determine the root causes of the leadership, staffing, and morale problems that are prevalent at Commerce OIG, nor does it include enough detail for us to determine the timing and extent of your efforts to address these problems.
The U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars every year and performs a variety of critical functions related to our nation’s economic growth and development. This includes oversight of the 2020 Census, the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariff exclusion process, and federal agencies’ use of electromagnetic spectrum. We believe that a strong and effective Commerce OIG is necessary to ensuring proper oversight of the Department and its functions.
At this time, we request that you provide full answers to the questions posed in Senator Grassley’s August 20 letter to you and contact us no later than December 13, 2019, to schedule a time when you can come to brief our Committee staffs.
If you have any questions, please contact Daniel Boatright or Daniel Parker of the Senate Committee on Finance at (202) 224-4515.
 Letter from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on Fin., to Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Commerce (Aug. 20, 2019), https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-08-20%20CEG%20to%20Commerce%20OIG%20(morale).pdf. See also Letter from Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on Fin. (Sept. 3, 2019) (on file with Committee) (responding to Senator Grassley’s August 20 letter).