Congress could fill longstanding IG vacancies under Senate proposal

A bipartisan group of Senators on Thursday proposed legislation that would allow Congress to fill inspectors general vacancies lasting more than seven months.

The measure — introduced by Sens. John Boozeman (R-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — would transfer appointment authority to the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore whenever the president does not nominate someone within 210 days of an opening.

(Allison Shelley/Getty Images) – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a news conference July 25.

(Allison Shelley/Getty Images) – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a news conference July 25.

The legislation addresses longstanding inspectors general vacancies that have occurred during the Obama administration. Some of the spots have been open for more than four years.

“Inspectors generals are taxpayers’ best advocates to fight waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government,” Shaheen said in a joint statement with the other senators. “Making sure we have our watchdogs in place is absolutely critical to putting our fiscal house in order and managing the government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

There are currently seven vacancies for inspectors general within the executive branch, including two openings at cabinet agencies. President Obama has made nominations to fill four of those spots, but his picks await Senate confirmation.

The nominees in waiting are Steve Linick for the State Department, Scott Dahl for the Labor Department, Michael Carroll for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Jon Rymer for the Defense Department.

The president has not yet chosen inspectors general nominees for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior. (A previous version of this article stated that Obama needed an appointment for the National Endowment for the Arts, but the head of that organization appoints its inspector general in accordance with federal law).

In lieu of permanent inspectors general, agencies work with acting or deputy IGs. But critics of that approach say acting inspectors are sometimes considered less credible, and that the prospect of returning to the lower ranks after a successor is confirmed can hinder their independence.

The watchdog group Project On Government Oversight, which has long pressured the administration to fill its inspectors general vacancies, expressed limited support for the Senate legislation on Thursday.

“It’s a good-faith effort, and we want to work with these and other senators to fill all inspectors general positions, but there are some legitimate constitutional concerns with congressional appointments,” said POGO director of public policy Angela Canterbury.

The senators said in their statement that the Supreme Court affirmed in 1976 that Congress can appoint officials who would have investigative authority, except for the power to seek warrants or to make arrests without warrants.

Canterbury said that scenario would not be preferable, even if the argument holds up. ”Allowing for Congress to make an appointment but stripping the inspector general of essential powers in order to make it constitutional, I think that’s not an added value,” she said. “We want well-qualified, permanent and fully empowered inspectors general.”

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