The level of independence granted to agency IGs from management of the agencies they review “also makes it more difficult to identify and remedy issues that arise within an OIG by limiting their supervision by senior agency officials,” the Congressional Research Service has said.
Says a report, “Who watches the watchers?” is a question that is frequently posed when people consider the role of oversight bodies, including offices of inspector general . . . While oversight of OIGs may create specific challenges for Congress and other stakeholders, the efficient and effective operation of OIGs, like the agencies and officials they oversee, is important to the successful operation of the government,” it said.
The report comes as the House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill (HR-2662) to increase the authority and independence of IGs, including new limits on White House’s ability to fire them.
Despite the independence guaranteed by law, the CRS said, a President does have that authority, although the law requires sending written notice to Congress, including the reasons for the action, at least 30 days in advance. “When Presidents have been perceived to act against that expectation of independence, even when they are acting in a manner allowed under the IG Act, they have typically been met with bipartisan criticism in Congress,” it said.
The inspector general community itself conducts oversight of its members and some smaller federal agencies have direct authority to remove IGs, it said. However, it said that “it may be the case that the primary responsibility for overseeing OIGs and ensuring that they are accountable ultimately falls upon Congress,” which appropriates the money for their operations and has the power to amend the laws applying to them.
“Congress, therefore, occupies an unusual position as both a regular user of OIG work products and a body that can oversee OIG performance. This combination may mean that Congress brings its own perspective on the effectiveness of OIGs that not only includes compliance with legal and professional standards but also extends to broader questions about OIG priorities and the value of their work,” it said.