Inside the National Archives building. (Matt McClain for the Washington Post)

Inspectors general are some of the most important public servants, as watchdogs over spending, mismanagement and corruption in government.

Sometimes they come under investigation themselves, as was the case with Paul Brachfeld, who was forced to retire from the National Archives in August after a probe of his conduct in office found that he made insensitive comments about women and racial minorities.

The problem here, besides the fall of a veteran inspector general after a 35-year federal career, was the prolonged taxpayer-paid investigation by an obscure council charged with ensuring the “integrity” of federal watchdogs. It took close to two years, leaving the historical records agency in the hands of a caretaker inspector general, Brachfeld in limbo and taxpayers shelling out $186,000 for his salary, plus benefits, while he stayed home.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a longtime advocate for the work of federal watchdogs, has long said he wants to reform the system that investigates those accused of wrongdoing. He’s now asking the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to answer some questions about its time-consuming investigation process that could shed light on the drawn-out Brachfeld case and, presumably, others.

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“Extended investigations are harmful to the independence and integrity of the IG community,” Grassley, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote on Aug. 21 to Joseph Campbell, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, who was in charge of the Brachfeld case and leads the council’s integrity committee.

The committee meets just four times a year.

Grassley argued that drawing out an investigation against a senior leader in government is bad on a number of fronts. It’s not fair to the employee and effectively “constitutes the constructive removal of an IG,” he wrote.

“Without a consistent, transparent and efficient investigative process, [the council] will not be able to perform its essential function: to ensure that the IG community is living up to the standards it sets for the Executive Branch.”

In the interest of “improvements to the [investigative] process,” Grassley sought four years of data from the council, including how long complaints take to be resolved and the cost of each investigations.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the committee is “responding accordingly to Senator Grassley.”