OMB’s December memo requiring agencies to more fully cooperate with inspector general offices appears to be that agency’s “first published guidance in recent decades, if ever, to broadly address the relationship between agency leaders and IGs,” says a report for Congress.
That memo told agencies to regularly communicate to their employees the role and authority of IG offices and laid out guidelines for cooperation including routine meetings between agency leadership and IGs, designation of a senior agency official as liaison to the IG office, collaboration with IG staff when developing new programs or changing existing programs, providing information and training to staff on whistleblower protections, and responsiveness to IG recommendations.
A report from the Congressional Research Service notes that by law, while an IG is under the general supervision of an agency head, an agency may not attempt to interfere with or control investigations and audits. “This arrangement makes clear that IGs have at least some degree of independence as they fulfill their duties but does not ensure that relations between IGs and their agency leaders will always be constructive,” it says.
“Congress has maintained a strong interest in the operations of the IG community and the ability of IGs to operate effectively and independently within the executive branch,” it adds, noting pending bills to strengthen the independence and authority of IG offices.
“Now that OMB has issued guidance on relations between agencies and their IGs, Congress may wish to be particularly careful in its oversight of those relationships and, in particular, OMB’s involvement for at least two reasons,” it says. “Congress may benefit from determining whether OMB’s guidance reflected in this memorandum improves the effectiveness of the IG community. If the guidance does promote congressional intent for IGs, Congress might consider codifying its policies in law. Lessons learned from implementation of the memorandum may provide data to inform future amendments to the IG Act.”
A change in law might be needed to preserve those policies, it adds, because “it is possible that OMB could adopt policies in the future that would discourage agency cooperation with IGs or otherwise limit the ability of IGs to conduct their work.”