The federal Inspectors General, like the one who revealed the GSA's $800,000 taxpayer-funded Las Vegas wing-ding, are essential to good government. But only if they exist, says U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), who considers President Obama to be downright "hostile" in allowing 10 Inspectors General posts to remain vacant.
The Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) are headed by independent government watchdogs assigned to look for and report wrongdoing, waste and other abuses within the various federal agencies. Like Cabinet secretaries, the Inspectors General are appointed by the President of the United States, with the approval of the Senate.
"I can't imagine a president would tolerate not having a secretary of state, a secretary of defense, a secretary of homeland security, or a secretary of interior," said Rep. Darrell Issa on his website. "Likewise, tolerating inspector general vacancies at these departments and other agencies hampers oversight and sends the wrong message about what should be an unequivocal commitment to accountable government."
The vacant OIGs include five at Cabinet-level agencies: The Dept. of State (vacant over 1,575 days); Dept. of the Interior (over 1,171 days); Dept. of Labor (over 1,031 days); Dept. of Homeland Security (over 437 days); and the Dept. of Defense (over 103 days). The State Department's OIG has been headed by a deputy inspector for over four years.
Other OIGs remaining vacant include: Corporation for National & Community Service; National Endowment for the Humanities; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction; Agency for International Development (USAID); and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
To Be Fair: While the OIGs of these 10 agencies are officially considered "vacant," they are all served by "deputy" or "acting" inspectors, who continue to conduct investigations and issue reports. In addition, the OIGs of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities are appointed by the directors of those agencies, not by the president.
In his opening statement to the committee, Issa said the lingering vacancies showed that a "pattern of hostility toward the inspector general community" existed within the Obama administration.
"One of the President's first actions on the IG front was to unlawfully remove IG Gerald Walpin from his post at the Corporation for National and Community Service," said Issa. "Not only did this termination appear to be retribution for Walpin's investigations into a political ally of President Obama, but it violated the law requiring 30 days notice to Congress with explanation for the action."
"This administration's failure to fill inspector-general vacancies has weakened the effectiveness of the inspector-general community, thus exposing American taxpayer dollars to waste, fraud and abuse," Issa stated.
According to Rep. Issa, investigations conducted by the OIGs identified potential savings of $43.3 billion in 2009 alone. "Having a robust group of permanent inspectors general at the federal agencies is the best way to protect taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse," he said.
"With billions of dollars at stake, every Office of the Inspector General must act decisively to protect taxpayer dollars," added Rep. Issa. "Swift and decisive action requires the leadership of a permanent IG."
Tracking the OIG Vacancies: The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has created a "Where Are All the Watchdogs?" web page, which continually tracks the overall number of IG vacancies, the length of those vacancies, and whose responsibility it is to fill the positions.