Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to bolster the 2008 Inspector General (IG) Protection Law.
“I’m introducing bipartisan legislation on Thursday to clear up any ambiguity about Congress’s expectations when presidents decide to fire inspectors general. This legislation beefs up the mandate of advance notification to require “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons”—terms that the court said were missing from the 2008 law,” Grassley said.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act is also cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
The 2008 IG protection law was passed unanimously to promote political independence of agency watchdogs and discourage outside interference with IG duties to combat fraud, waste, abuse, and misconduct but lawmakers have since observed the need to update the old law.
“This legislation we are introducing today clarifies and builds upon that law and will help ensure that IGs remain independent from inappropriate influence or pressure from the government agencies they oversee,” Collins said.
“This bill makes clear that important and necessary steps must be taken before an Inspector General can be removed from their post. Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days while the Inspector General remains on the job to consider those reasons,” Portman said.
Grassley has spent his career advocating for independence in the watchdog community and fair treatment of IG’s from both parties. Grassley said President Obama and President Trump both fired IG’s without giving a detailed rationale for why they were terminated.
“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law. This bill spells out Congress’ expectations from the Executive Branch when the President decides to remove an IG and prevents conflicts of interest that can arise when IGs are replaced with political appointees,” Grassley said.
There are 75 offices of inspectors general working throughout the federal government to stop fraud and abuse. Grassley said that their work has saved taxpayers billions of dollars. In 2020 so far, IGs identified more than $20 billion in potential savings through their audits, reports, and recommendations.
On June 4, Grassley announced he was placing a hold on the nomination of Christopher C. Miller to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center until the White House explains why Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson was terminated. He also blocked the nomination of Marshall Billingslea to be the undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department until detailed reasons were provided for the termination of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.
Grassley announced Thursday that he is removing those objections.
“[A]lthough I do not agree with the President’s stated reasons for removing [IGs Atkinson and Linick], my objection to these nominees was designed to prompt compliance with the IG Reform Act, which the President has now done,” Grassley said today in a statement for the Senate record removing his objection. He also made it clear that this was not a partisan issue, as he also disagreed with the Obama administration’s reasons for removing IG Walpin.
Although the Constitution gives the President the authority to terminate an IG, the new legislation will hold the executive branch to a higher level of accountability, requiring that specific reason be provided to Congress for the decision.
“Though the Constitution gives the president the authority to manage executive branch personnel, Congress has made it clear that should the president find reason to fire an inspector general, there ought to be a good reason for it,” Grassley said Thursday.