The legislation would also exempt federal auditors from a law that prevents them from accessing agencies’ electronic records without first obtaining permission. Inspectors general have asked for easier access to the information to identify improper federal payments, assistance and grants.
Top lawmakers from three powerful congressional panels have sponsored the bill. They include Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the top Democrat from the Permanent Select Subcommittee on Investigations, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
“This bill gives inspectors general more tools to investigate agencies and ferret out improper payments, and it helps ensure the independence of our federal watchdogs,” Johnson said in a joint statement with the other lawmakers. “These are bipartisan goals, and I’m pleased this is something we can come together on.”
Among the bill’s other effects, it would limit the president’s ability to place inspectors general on indefinite administrative leave and require the Government Accountability Office to provide Congress with regular reports on the effects of vacancies for the official watchdog positions.
Nine agencies currently operate without permanent inspectors general or nominees to fill the roles. Acting heads fill those positions, but good-government groups such as the Project On Government Oversight contend that confirmed directors are better for the appearance of legitimacy, as well as for long-term strategic planning and ensuring independence.
The measure would also require auditing officials to keep lawmakers more informed of agencies’ failures in holding employees accountable for misconduct, and retaliation against whistleblowers.
“As a former prosecutor and auditor, I understand the critical work these watchdogs do to guard against waste, fraud and abuse in our government,” McCaskill said in the statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help give them the tools they need to do effective, efficient oversight work, which I’m hopeful can give Americans a little more faith in the transparency and accountability of their government.”