Federal Watchdogs Complain to Congress About Access Woes

Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 10:45 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The heads of 47 government watchdog agencies have written to Congress claiming that federal departments are deliberately delaying or denying access to documents they are allowed by law to review, Politico reported.

The inspectors general complain in the highly-unusual letter to the bipartisan leaders of major committees in the House and Senate that the lack of availability of certain records is inhibiting their investigations and preventing them from cutting fraud and waste in government departments.

The letter was sent to Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on that committee, as well as Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Tom Coburn, ranking Republican on the committee.

The signees include the inspectors general for the departments of Veteran Affairs, State, Treasury, Labor and Commerce, as well as the IGs for the Federal Labor Relations Authority, National Security Agency, Office of Personnel Management, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Postal Service.

“Refusing, restricting, or delaying an Inspector General’s access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency’s performance," the group of IGs wrote.

The watchdogs say that certain agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, and the Peace Corps, are interpreting the 1978 law that created the inspector general positions in such a way as to impede or exclude access to agency records, the letter states.

"These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every inspector general and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner," the IGs wrote.

"Even when we are ultimately able to resolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities. This plainly is not what Congress intended when it passed the IG Act."

The letter was revealed by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who slammed the Obama administration for its lack of transparency.

"This is an administration that pledged to be the most transparent in history,” he said. “Yet, these non-partisan, independent agency watchdogs say they are getting stonewalled.

“How are the watchdogs supposed to be able to do their jobs without agency cooperation? I’ll continue working with the committees of jurisdiction to fix the access problems, through oversight and possibly legislation.”

More than 20 inspectors general seemingly refused to sign the letter, including those representing the departments of Education, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior and Transportation.

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