Administration Opposes Bill on Inspectors General

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Bush administration yesterday lodged a veto threat against a House bill that would strengthen the independence of the government's inspectors general.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), would provide inspectors general with seven-year terms, let them submit budget requests directly to Congress and permit the White House to fire them only for cause.

In a policy statement, the Bush administration said it strongly opposes provisions in the bill that would allow inspectors general "to circumvent the president's longstanding, and constitutionally based, control over executive branch budget requests."

The White House also strongly objected to the bill's provision that specifies reasons for dismissing an inspector general, calling it an "intrusion on the president's removal authority."

Cooper's bill has been scheduled for a vote on the House floor this week and had seemed likely to move forward with little controversy. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate, which includes recommendations by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Inspectors generals are unusual creatures in the federal bureaucracy. At large agencies, they are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate and generally are asked to serve both masters. They are supposed to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse, preferably without causing too much embarrassment for their agency heads, usually political appointees.

President Ronald Reagan conducted a purge when he took office in 1981, but since then, presidents have tried to avoid public firings, though some inspectors general have been quietly forced out of their jobs after a new administration took power.

This year, Democrats have expressed concern that some inspectors general are too wary of crossing their agency heads.

In recent months, questions of independence or accountability have been raised about the inspectors general at the State and Commerce departments, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution and the Legal Services Corporation, and Democrats have cited the controversies as a reason to update the 1978 law that created the inspectors general.

"IG independence is not an academic matter but a pressing policy concern," Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) said at a summer hearing.

Cooper's bill would formally establish an inspector general council, consolidating two councils that were chartered under a presidential executive order. The council would investigate allegations against inspectors general.

Under the bill, presidentially appointed inspectors general would be removed only for cause, such as permanent incapacity, neglect of duty or malfeasance. Agency heads who appoint their inspectors general could not fire or transfer them without first informing Congress of the reasons, according to the bill.

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