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Senators urge Obama to quickly fill vacant inspectors general slots

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) (L) and Sen. Robert Mendez (D-NJ) listen to testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi attack in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on January 23, 2013. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

A bipartisan group of senators is urging President Obama to quickly fill vacant inspector general slots at six agencies.

A letter from members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to Obama on Thursday says there are vacancies at the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor and State and the Agency for International Development.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

“Every year, Inspectors General identify billions of dollars in potential savings, including savings from improved management practices and fines and repayments resulting from investigations,” the letter said. “The value of the Inspectors General goes beyond dollars; these offices also help reveal and prosecute wrongdoing, and promote the integrity of government. They provide invaluable support to Congressional budgeting and oversight work. Inspectors General are an essential component of government oversight.”

The senators were led by committee Chairman Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), the top Republican on the panel.

The vacancy at the Department of Homeland Security “is extremely troubling, given that the agency faces many management and budget challenges, and the IG’s office itself faces allegations of misconduct,” according to the letter. It also noted that the State Department has not had a permanent inspector general for five years.

The letter is an early indication that the bipartisan working relationship the committee exhibited during the past session under former chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) might continue under the new leadership. The committee oversees federal workplace issues, among other matters.

Getting the message out

The Broadcasting Board of Governors has taken a lot of hits recently, the latest from one of its own.

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday to discuss last year’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, she said the government must “do a better job conveying a counternarrative to the extremist jihadist narrative,” according to a CNN transcript.

“[W]e’re not doing what we did during the Cold War. Our Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world,” said Clinton, an ex-officio member of the board.

“So we’re abdicating the ideological arena, and we need to get back into it.”

The BBG oversees the government’s international broadcasting operations. A report issued last week by the State Department’s inspector general’s office called the board “dysfunctional.” Reports going back several years also have been very critical of the BBG.

Clinton urged the committee to “pay attention to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is in desperate need of assistance, intervention and change.”

A statement from the board said many government broadcasters “are extraordinarily well-funded, and none of them has a mandate like the BBG’s, bringing unbiased news and information to more than 100 countries in 59 languages — and on a shrinking budget even as the need for our services continues to grow.”

BBG members said they “applaud the thousands of brave men and women around the globe who work hard every day, sometimes in the face of great danger, to provide objective news to people in societies where the media are not entirely free.”

IRS seeks more funding

The Internal Revenue Service may be the federal agency everyone loves to hate, but a malnourished IRS can make us all poorer.

That’s the message from Nina E. Olson, the national taxpayer advocate at the IRS.

“Because of funding shortages, the IRS is unable to answer millions of taxpayer telephone calls or timely process letters, the tax gap (i.e., the amount of tax due but uncollected) stands at nearly $400 billion each year,” says the advocate’s 2012 annual report, which was recently released.

Olson said the IRS collected $241 trillion in fiscal year 2012 on a budget of $11.8 billion, for a return on investment of 214 to 1.

Yet, although the Obama administration requested $13.3 billion in fiscal 2012 for the IRS, Congress sliced that by almost $1.5 billion, an 11 percent cut, according to IRS figures. From the end of fiscal 2010 to the end of 2012, the number of employees dropped from 94,346 to 89,500.

Collen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees, said, “Underfunding the IRS endangers our country’s border security, food safety, national defense and all of the vital government services we rely on.”

AFL-CIO gives award

The AFL-CIO has awarded its “At the River I Stand” award to American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. The presentation was made Jan. 20 at the AFL-CIO’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, this year in Philadelphia. The award is named in honor of Memphis sanitation workers, with whom King was working when he was assassinated in 1968.

“I truly believe that public service is the most powerful tool to bridge our gaps, heal wounds and lift up working families,” Cox said. “Further, the labor movement and civil rights movement must be one movement united to end discrimination in all forms.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at

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