The Obama administration is threatening to roll back more than 30 years of policy that has allowed government watchdogs access to records in order to conduct internal investigations, The New York Times reports.
"It’s the complete evisceration of the concept. You might as well fold them down, Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied the system told the Times. "They’ve become defanged."
At least two government investigations have either been slowed or shut down because the White House has withheld records, the Times reports.
“This is by far the most aggressive assault on the inspector general concept since the beginning,” said Light, and Peace Corps inspector general Kathy Buller said it "runs against transparency."
The new rules come from a dispute within the Justice Department after its former inspector general, Glenn Fine, gave a series of reports on FBI abuses. After that, FBI attorneys said that he could no longer have access to their confidential records.
A Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion, though, said a law passed in 1978 did not mean the inspector general did not have all access in materials used in an investigation, including wiretap data and results from federal grand juries.
The 1978 system was created after Watergate and now includes watchdogs from some 72 federal agencies, reports The Times. They have published thousands of reports on government abuse, and tension has grown between the Obama administration.
Justice's inspector general's office said 14 investigations have already been harmed by the project, including a look at how the FBI uses the national Security Agency's phone records; the sharing of information before the Boston Marathon bombings, and the "Fast and Furious" gun tracing organization.
The watchdogs are calling for Congress to intervene.
“It’s essential to enshrine in the law that the inspector general has access to all agency records,” said Fine,, who is now the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general.
“The underlying principle is key: To be an effective inspector general, you need the right to receive timely access to all agency records," he said.
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