Federal bureaucrats who break the law or waste tax dollars almost never have to worry about being named in public records, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.
Six of the top inspectors general (IG) — presidentially-appointed watchdogs tasked with fighting waste, fraud and abuse in the federal bureaucracy — withheld the names of government employees in 88 percent of the reports they issued over a six-month period.
TheDCNF analyzed hundreds of reports published from July 2015 through December 2015 by the IGs for the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The six watchdogs named federal wrongdoers in only three of 25 reports TheDCNF examined that involved misconduct. Scores of other IG reports published during the period exposed millions of wasted taxpayer dollars, but named no individual federal workers responsible.
- EPA’s IG disclosed no names in two reports involving employee misconduct.
- DoE’s IG, which keeps most employee investigations confidential, published only one report involving employee misconduct, and no names.
- DOJ’s IG, which began publishing summaries of internal investigations last year and has more misconduct reports, disclosed names in one of 10 involving misconduct.
- DHS’ IG, which also bars the public from seeing most of its misconduct reports, included no names in the lone report published during the period of review.
- DOI’s IG, which often publicizes internal investigations, disclosed names in two of five reports involving misconduct.
- HUD’s IG published no names in six reports involving misconduct.
IGs typically claim the Privacy Act prohibits them from publishing names of offending bureaucrats, but some legal experts say that’s a misapplication of the law.
‘Typically, IGs have incredibly expansive authority to disclose anything they feel like disclosing. So, if they’re not giving you something, it’s because they don’t want to,” Bob Gellman told TheDCNF.
Gellman worked for 17 years on privacy and confidentiality issues on a congressional subcommittee. He is a Yale Law School graduate and is now a privacy and information policy consultant.
Unnamed employees included a DOJ attorney who attempted to use his position to avoid a DUI, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer convicted of murdering his wife.
The 1974 Privacy Act governs maintenance and distribution of individuals’ information secured in federal records systems. The IGs often cite it as grounds to withhold names, but then sometimes decide the law doesn’t apply, usually in cases involving high-level officials and major investigations.
“With transparency comes accountability, which is why the DOJ OIG publicly posts its misconduct findings in cases of significant public interest,” John Lavinsky, counsel to the DOJ IG, told TheDCNF.
“We seek to include names in our reports where the law permits, as we did in our Operation Fast and Furious report, and our strong record supporting transparency is widely recognized. Where the law limits our ability to name the individual we have investigated, either because the Privacy Act protects that person’s identity or because including the name would identify a victim or witness, we comply with the law,” Lavinsky said.
DOI IG spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said her office weighs the “privacy interest in the information against the public interest in disclosure.”
The HUD IG did not respond to request for comment. The DoE, DHS and EPA IGs, however, cited Privacy Act concerns, too.
“The Privacy Act doesn’t address that issue,” David Vladeck, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and current Georgetown University Law professor, told TheDCNF. The law is “not sort of a roving mandate to suppress information about individual wrongdoing.”
Federal law requires the government to safeguard private information in a number of ways, but “it doesn’t give employees [the right] to not have their names made public, let alone in a public investigation,” Vladeck said.
Generally, agencies can’t disclose an individual’s information unless that person consents, but that doesn’t apply to investigative records that result in a public report, he said. IGs have other considerations, like ensuring the privacy of sexual harassment victims, but those make up a fraction of nameless reports.
“I think more than the possible legal repercussions, it’s really just, it’s tough being a government employee, and I think that the IGs are very sensitive to being certain about someone’s responsibility before they’re named,” Vladeck said.
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