Watchdogs Demand Unfettered Access To Federal Records

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Federal watchdogs are urging Congress to make sure all inspectors general, not just those at Department of Justice, have unfettered access to all official documents their respective agencies produce.

The Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency fired off a letter to top members of Congress Thursday encouraging Congress to reiterate through new legislation that the 1978 Inspector General Act already entitles IGs to all agency records.

The letter comes two days after the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs asked Congress to pass legislation specifying that only the DOJ IG is entitled to all department records. Previously, the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel denied the department’s IG access to wiretapped communications or grand jury testimony.

But the proposed fix is too little, too late, for an IG community where other federal watchdogs are facing similar access problems.

“While the DOJ agrees with CIGIE that legislation is needed and should be passed by Congress to reverse the impact of the OLC opinion, the DOJ’s proposal only applies to the DOJ Inspector General’s access to records and fails to ensure that all other federal inspectors general have the same independent access at their respective agencies,” the letter says. “As such, DOJ’s proposed legislative language is not acceptable.”

The Peace Corps and Department of Commerce IGs are also battling bureaucrats for records, according to CIGIE Chairman DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz and CIGIE Legislation Committee Chairman and Peace Corps Inspector General Kathy Buller.

Rep. [crscore]Jason Chaffetz[/crscore], R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced a bill in May reiterating the IG Act’s provision that IGs are entitled to all records produced by the agency or department they oversee, but the House has yet to vote on the measure.

The IGs contend protecting the full access to all federal records as described in the 1978 law is essential to holding government agencies and officials accountable to taxpayers.

“Effective and independent oversight is the mission of all inspectors general and, therefore, all inspectors general require timely and independent access to agency information necessary to carry out that responsibility,” the CIGIE letter continues. “This is a bedrock principle of the IG Act.”

The DOJ IG has battled the FBI for records in various investigations over the last several years.

“The FBI is not above the law,” Sen. [crscore]Chuck Grassley[/crscore], R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in August.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch lauded the work of the IGs during a speech at a CIGIR event but stopped short of endorsing the group’s position on document access.

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