President Obama enters his lame duck year with eight federal agencies without Inspectors General and five Inspector General positions waiting for presidential appointments.
The Export-Import Bank, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Commerce, National Reconnaissance Office and Department of Energy do not have IGs and are waiting for Obama to appoint a nominee.
The Department of the Interior never received a permanent IG appointment from the president until last June and Senate Republicans are not ready to confirm Obama’s choice, deputy Interior Inspector General Mary Kendall, claiming she is too close to senior political figures at the department to be considered independent.
President Obama appointed an IG nominee to the Department of Veterans Affairs in October. The IG position for the VA remains empty since late December 2013. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation received an IG nomination from the president in November 2014, but his pick is floundering in the Senate.
The purpose of each Office of Inspector General is to provide independent oversight of a particular government agency to investigate waste, fraud and abuse. This oversight ranges from tracking a department’s use of taxpayer dollars to inspections, evaluations and investigations of a department’s activities and personnel.
“When IG positions remain unfilled, their offices are run by acting IGs who, no matter how qualified or well-intentioned, are not granted the same protections afforded to Senate-confirmed IGs,” Wisconsin Republican Sen. [crscore]Ron Johnson[/crscore] said in June.
“They are not truly independent, as they can be removed by the agency at any time; they are only temporary and do not drive office policy; and they are at greater risk of compromising their work to appease the agency or the president,” he added.
There are 72 statutory federal OIGs. Thirty-three of those require a presidential nomination, while 39 require an appointment by the agency. Although agencies that lack a confirmed IG sometimes have an acting IG instead, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) argues that an individual in an acting IG position may not be as independent as a confirmed appointment.
POGO shows that the Obama administration’s average time for filling IG vacancies is double that of past administrations. Under Reagan, the average time was 224 days; under George H.W. Bush, it was 337 days; for Clinton it was 453 days; and under George W. Bush, it was 280 days. Obama’s average stands at 613 days, “which is a problem,” Johnson told Government Executive.com.
“Permanent IGs undergo significant vetting — especially the IGs that require Senate confirmation — before taking their position. That vetting process helps to instill confidence among OIG stakeholders—Congress, agency officials, whistleblowers, and the public—that the OIG is truly independent and that its investigations and audits are accurate and credible,” POGO states on its website, adding that a permanent IG can set long term “strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities.”
President Obama’s track record of nominating IGs in a timely manner triggered criticism from Republicans who believed the administration did not want oversight of its activities. In January 2012, Iowa Republican Sen. [crscore]Chuck Grassley[/crscore] released a Congressional Research Service report showing permanent IG’s had been nominated for just five of the 11 federal agencies up to that point.