Tags: Inspector General | Horowits | Whistleblower | OLC

Inspectors General Keep DC Honest

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Monday, 03 Aug 2015 12:17 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Last week we celebrated National Whistleblower Day, commemorating the day in 1778 when our Founding Fathers unanimously “Resolved, that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as the other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

It isn’t easy being a whistleblower these days. It requires courage and perseverance.

It isn’t easy being an inspector general either. It requires courage and leadership.

President Obama exacerbated the challenges facing whistleblowers and inspectors general when he allowed his Justice Department recently to tie the hands of inspectors general, the statutory watchdogs whose duties include whistleblower protection.

The “ruling” by the Obama administration was released on July 23, 2015, by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General promptly protested.

According to the statement posted on the Justice Department OIG website on July 23, 2015, “Today’s opinion by the OLC undermines the OIG’s independence, which is a hallmark of the inspector general system and is essential to carrying out the OIG’s oversight responsibilities under the Inspector General Act. The OLC’s opinion restricts the OIG’s ability to independently access all records in the Justice Department’s possession that are necessary for our audits, reviews, and investigations, and is contrary to the principles and express language set forth in the Inspector General Act.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded the posted statement with his own admonition: “I strongly disagree with the OLC opinion. Congress meant what it said when it authorized Inspectors General to independently access ‘all’ documents necessary to conduct effective oversight. Without such access, our Office’s ability to conduct its work will be significantly impaired, and it will be more difficult for us to detect and deter waste, fraud, and abuse, and to protect taxpayer dollars. We look forward to working with the Congress and the Justice Department to promptly remedy this serious situation.”

Inspector General Horowitz is also chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which sets policy for the federal inspector general community.

Fortunately for Inspector General Horowitz and every other IG bound by the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, Congress has already provided a few tools to help inspectors general deal with “this serious situation.”

First, the Inspector General Act requires prompt reports to Congress whenever anyone attempts to interfere with the independence of an inspector general: “Each Inspector General shall report immediately to the head of the establishment involved whenever the Inspector General becomes aware of particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations of such establishment. The head of the establishment shall transmit any such report to the appropriate committees or subcommittees of Congress within seven calendar days, together with a report by the head of the establishment containing any comments such head deems appropriate” (IG Act, as amended, §5(d)).

Considering the importance of independence to carrying out duties prescribed in the Inspector General Act, any serious interference with this independence must be considered among those “particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations of such establishment.”

Second, the 2008 amendments to the Inspector General Act require that, “Each Inspector General shall, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations governing the civil service, obtain legal advice from a counsel either reporting directly to the Inspector General or another Inspector General” (IG Act, as amended, §3(g)).

As a seasoned inspector general myself, and as author of “The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional ‘Enemies, Foreign and Domestic’,” here is my suggestion to Inspector General Horowitz and every other inspector general: Based on your own best judgment informed by your own independent legal counsel, be courageous in carrying out your statutory duties and continue, as our Founding Fathers unanimously admonished on July 30, 1778, to “give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”

“We the People” depend upon courageous whistleblowers and independent inspectors general.

In 1798, John Adams admonished that, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The very foundation of our Constitution thus depends upon courageous whistleblowers and independent inspectors general.

Let’s all salute and support courageous whistleblowers and independent inspectors general as they courageously root out fraud, waste, and abuse of power within our government.

Joseph E. Schmitz served as inspector general of the Dept. of Defense from 2002-2005 and is a Partner in the law firm of Schmitz & Socarras LLP. Read more reports from Joseph E. Schmitz — Click Here Now.

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President Obama exacerbated the challenges facing whistleblowers and inspectors general when he allowed his Justice Department recently to tie the hands of inspectors general, the statutory watchdogs whose duties include whistleblower protection.
Inspector General, Horowits, Whistleblower, OLC
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2015-17-03
Monday, 03 Aug 2015 12:17 PM
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