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Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to lead federal watchdog panel

Justice Department watchdog Michael Horowitz this month became the second chairman of the panel that guides and oversees the work of federal inspectors general.

The 72-member Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency elected Horowitz as its head in a closed-door vote last month, choosing him over Small Business Administration Inspector General Peggy Gustafson.

The independent council develops policies and standards for the federal inspectors general, in addition to reviewing their work when it is called into question.

Horowitz succeeded Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis Fong, who served as the panel’s leader since its inception in 2008. He appointed National Science Foundation Inspector General Allison Lerner as vice chairman of the council.

“I am honored to be elected chairperson and excited to build on the excellent work of my predecessor, Phyllis Fong,” Horwitz said in a statement Monday. “I look forward to working closely with Allison Lerner and the rest of my colleagues to strengthen the IG community and ensure that federal IGs remain capable of providing the independent, effective oversight that the American people expect and deserve.”

The Senate confirmed Horowitz as the Justice Department’s top watchdog in 2012. As the agency’s inspector general, he led a review of the federal gunwalking operation known as Fast and Furious, determining that no attorneys general knew about the botched program before it stopped.

Despite clearing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his predecessors, the 2012 report came down hard on Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents, regional prosecutors and senior officials, accusing them of lax oversight and ignoring risks to the public.

Horowitz determined this year that federal prosecutors and ATF agents used some of the same flawed tactics from the Fast and Furious operation while tracking an alleged smuggler of grenade parts. In an October report, the inspector general said U.S. authorities declined to indict the suspect in 2010 and 2011, instead allowing him to continue his work in hopes of catching leaders of the smuggling ring.

Horowitz this year also conducted a review that found rampant nepotism within the federal agency that oversees U.S. immigration courts, determining that three top officials used their positions to help relatives land paid internships.