Blockade on nominees lifted following compliance with watchdog statute
WASHINGTON – Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) today introduced bipartisan legislation beefing up a 2008 inspector general (IG) protection law that has been routinely flouted by two successive administrations from both political parties. The Securing Inspector General Independence Act (S. 3994) is also cosponsored by senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. This bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the President decides to remove an IG and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees,” Grassley said.
“Inspectors General work tirelessly to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently. These watchdogs must be able to conduct their work independently and without the threat of political interference – yet recent attacks by President Trump threaten to undermine their ability to do their critical jobs. We must ensure that this, and future, administrations are not able to undercut the transparency and accountability that Inspectors General provide to the American people. I’m proud to help lead this important, bipartisan effort to shield these public servants from political interference and ensure they can continue to hold the federal government accountable to taxpayers,” said Peters, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“I have long been a strong advocate for the Inspectors General, who are vital partners in Congress’s effort to identify inefficient or ineffective government programs and to root out fraud and other wrongdoing. In 2008, I coauthored The Inspector General Reform Act with former Senators Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman that strengthened the IG system.  This legislation we are introducing today clarifies and builds upon that law and will help ensure that IGs remain independent from inappropriate influence or pressure from the government agencies they oversee,” Collins said.
“In just a few months, President Trump has fired four inspectors general, some of whom we have now learned, were investigating potential wrongdoings by top Trump Administration officials. This is part of an alarming pattern of retaliation against those who are not loyal enough to President Trump or who dare to criticize him or his administration. These abrupt firings underscore the need to immediately address federal law to further protect these independent watchdogs who are charged with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse and ensuring federal officials are accountable to U.S. taxpayers. Today, I am proud to introduce a bipartisan bill that aims to strengthen protections for the nation’s inspectors general by requiring the President to provide substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons for the removal of an IG. The bottom line is that IGs are a crucial part of our intricate system of checks and balances, and the removal of an inspector general should not be politically motivated. We simply cannot have Presidents firing independent watchdogs because he or she does not like an investigation they are pursuing,” Carper said.
“Inspectors general play a vital role in the health of our democracy by holding federal agencies accountable and ensuring proper oversight of taxpayer dollars. I appreciate Chairman Grassley’s leadership on this legislation, which is aimed at protecting and maintaining the independence of inspectors general,” Romney said.
“This bill makes clear that important and necessary steps must be taken before an Inspector General can be removed from their post.  Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days while the Inspector General remains on the job to consider those reasons.  These protections are important to ensuring Inspector General independence and protecting whistleblowers who are essential in helping IGs root out waste, fraud, and abuse,” Portman said.
Though the Constitution establishes the President’s authority to manage executive branch employees, including the firing of IGs, the 2008  Inspector General Reform Act requires the president to provide Congress with a written explanation at least 30 days prior to removing an IG to prevent politically-motivated terminations. However, less than a year after it was enacted, President Obama fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin without providing sufficient details as Congress had intended under the law, prompting Grassley and bipartisan members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to push for more answers. A court later ruled that the administration wasn’t required to provide additional reasons prior to removing an IG – a case cited by the Trump administration when it initially refused to provide the level of details Grassley and his colleagues requested following President Trump’s removal of Intelligence Community IG Michael Atkinson and State Department IG Steve Linick.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act clarifies the 2008 law by requiring any administration to provide “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” prior to removing an IG. It also limits the use of administrative leave for IGs, including during the 30 days following the removal announcement. Both presidents Obama and Trump used administrative leave to effectively sideline IGs during the 30-day period. To ensure the independence of the IG community, the bill requires acting IGs to be selected from among senior-level employees within the watchdog community. To protect the integrity of investigations and audits during an IG transition, the bill requires regular training to IG employees on their whistleblower rights.
The bill is endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center, Government Accountability Project, and the Partnership for Public Service. The Council on Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency was consulted during the bill’s formation. Legislative text is available HERE.
Grassley is also withdrawing objections to administration nominees after receiving additional reasons for the President’s decision to remove Atkinson and Linick. Grassley announced the holds after the White House Counsel initially refused to share those reasons.
“Although I do not agree with the President’s stated reasons for removing IGs Atkinson and Linick, my objection to these nominees was designed to prompt compliance with the IG Reform Act, which the President has now done," Grassley said. In a statement for the Senate record removing his objections, he also noted that he similarly disagreed with the Obama administration’s stated reasons for removing IG Walpin, who was never reinstated.
Regardless of whether Congress agrees with a president’s stated reasons for removing an inspector general, the legal requirement to notify Congress shouldn’t go ignored. Failures to comply with the statute by two successive administrations from both political parties prompted Grassley’s introduction of the Securing Inspector General Independence Act to strengthen the 2008 law.