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Justice Department Puts Federal Watchdogs On Short Leash

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Seventy-two federal government watchdogs’ ability to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse is “under attack,” Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth told Congress Tuesday.

Roth, testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the memorandum circulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel earlier this year claiming IGs aren’t entitled to all records of the agency or department they oversee damages IGs’ ability to do their jobs.

The 1978 Inspector General Act explicitly grants IGs access to “all” agency or department records, but the OLC claimed in its memorandum that the law doesn’t include records like grand jury testimony or records concerning wiretapped communications.

“The Department of Justice apparently believes that it is up to those being audited to determine what information gets disclosed,” Roth said in a hearing on recent Transportation Security Administration security gaps.

“This is an inherent conflict of interest and upends the professional standards for audits and investigators. Inspectors general need to follow the facts wherever they lead, and must have unfettered access to all of the agency’s information to do so,” he said.

HOGR Chair Rep. [crscore]Jason Chaffetz[/crscore], R-Utah, introduced a bill in May reiterating the 1978 law’s provision that IGs are entitled to all information produced by the agency or department they oversee, but the House has yet to vote on it.

Taxpayers deserve congressional action soon, the Homeland Security IG said.

“This legislation would fix the misguided attempt to restrict access to records, and would restore IG independence and empower IGs to conduct the kind of rigorous, independent and thorough oversight that taxpayers expect and deserve,” Roth said.

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