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Panel chides Obama for inspector-general vacancies

By Timothy R. Smith,

House Republicans on Thursday criticized the Obama administration’s delay in nominating inspectors general for several key agencies.

There are 10 inspector-general vacancies, including five at Cabinet-level agencies. Four of the positions have been vacant for more than three years and some, such as the State Department’s, have been led by a deputy inspector general for years.

“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,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee.

Acting inspectors general have filled the vacant slots.

A White House spokesman said Thursday, “The administration supports the work and commitment of all of the IG offices, including those currently being led by acting IGs, as they strive to ensure that taxpayers are getting the good government they deserve.”

But acting inspectors general may not carry out their duties with as much vigor as Senate-confirmed permanent inspectors general, some observers have said.

“Permanent IGs are in a better position to be viewed as credible than are acting IGs for a number of reasons,” said Jake Wiens, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight. “One is that permanent IGs are selected for the position on the basis of their qualifications to lead an IG office, whereas a temporary IG may be a good auditor or investigator, but may not be as qualified for a leadership role.”

Phyllis K. Fong, inspector general of the Department of Agriculture and chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, told the panel, “While acting IGs do a very, very good job, these positions should be filled as speedily as possible.”

Some lawmakers asked why the president does not nominate some of the acting inspectors general who have had successful tenures. Members praised Mary L. Kendall, acting inspector general of the Interior Department, for example. Kendall investigated the department’s role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The State Department has been without a permanent inspector general for more than four years, although under its acting leader, Harry Geisel, the number of investigations has increased.

“I’ve always been told the proof of the pie is in the eating, and if a person is doing a good job there’s nothing to suggest he or she will not continue to do so,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.). “And I would certainly hope the Senate would take that into consideration where there’s a need for permanent placement.”

Issa suggested that there could be some vehicle for Congress or the Council of the Inspectors General to install permanent candidates if the White House does not make a nomination. But Brian Miller, inspector general of the General Services Administration, whose office uncovered an $800,000 employee conference, cited the appointments clause of the Constitution as a major legal obstacle for using such a tactic.

In a letter to President Obama sent Wednesday night, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked for information on the delays and a time frame in which nominations may be expected.

“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to ensure that all federal agencies have proper oversight through highly qualified, permanent inspectors general,” the letter said.

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