Senate Passes Grassley Bill Restoring Watchdogs’ Authority to Access “All Records”
IG Empowerment Act Now Awaits President’s Signature to become Law
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today passed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s legislation to expand tools for inspectors general to identify and address fraud, waste and misconduct in government. The Inspector General Empowerment Act restores Congress’ intent to guarantee inspectors general access to “all records” of the agencies they oversee, overturning a 2015 Obama administration legal memo roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. The House of Representatives passed identical legislation earlier this week. The bill must now be signed by the President before becoming law.
“If we’ve learned one thing in the last year, it’s that government needs more transparency and oversight, not less. Inspectors general are our eyes and ears in government. They are on the front lines in the fight against fraud, waste and misconduct, but they can’t do their job if they can’t access the necessary government documents. This bill makes sure that they have the tools and access they need to safeguard our tax dollars, improve efficiency, and tackle misconduct. It also reinforces Congress’ intent to grant IGs access to all agency records in the course of their work, a longstanding authority that the bureaucracy has gone great lengths to resist,” Grassley said.
The Inspector General Act of 1978 authorizes each inspector general to access “all records” in their agency’s possession in the conduct of an oversight investigation or audit. However, on July 20, 2015, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion arguing that other provisions generally restricting the “disclosure” of certain kinds of information override the “all records” provision of the Inspector General Act. The Inspector General Empowerment Act reverses the flawed legal opinion, which several agencies have cited when withholding or delaying access to documents inspectors general needed to perform thorough and complete investigations.
The key provision of the bill adds language explicitly requiring agencies to provide “timely” access to all records “notwithstanding any other provision of law.”
The Inspector General Empowerment Act contains additional provisions to improve the independence of inspectors general and to equip them with the tools to more effectively and efficiently identify and address waste, fraud and misconduct within the government.
For more information, see a bill summary.