Thursday, July 5, 2007

Claire McCaskill Has No Use For President Bush's "Heckofajob" Inspector Generals

On June 14, I reported on the case of Michael Griffin, NASA's ethically challenged general counsel, who destroyed video evidence he knew was needed by the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Science and Technology Committee. His behavior was so outrageous that even Republicans on the Committee are demanding the AG take action.

While I was focused on Griffin, my senator Claire McCaskill was looking hard at the more important underlying scandal involving the mad cap antics of NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb, who has been accused of abusing his authority and improperly consulting with NASA's head for guidance on how the agency wanted its audits conducted. On at least two occasions, Cobb is alleged to have interfered with the execution of search warrants of NASA offices, apparently fearing what might be found would make the agency look bad.

Cobb's conduct was odd because an Inspector General is the Federal Government equivalent of an auditor. Auditors are those utterly indispensable people who look over an agency's shoulder making sure the agency is following the law and established procedure, and that its books balance. They force administrators to defend their actions. Most of them take pride in finding things that need improvement. They are most definitely not in the business of making sure officials look good.

McCaskill was Missouri's Auditor prior to her election to the Senate. She took her job very seriously. She knows that no professional auditor would ever meet with an agency head to ask how he wanted an audit conducted, nor would any professional auditor interfere with the execution of warrants out of fear of making an agency look bad. Generally, you expect an auditor (IG) to be the person telling the agency head what to produce and seeking warrants when the agency doesn't.

Auditors work for the people, and not the administration. That is why in most states they are elected. Missourians understand the importance of auditor independence. As in the case of McCaskill they often elect someone from the party out of power to fill the role. It's not required, it just happens.

It seems that NASA IG Cobb, a loyal Bushie of the "heckofajob Brownie" variety, had no audit or investigatory experience prior to being appointed by the President. Apparently he had no idea what he was supposed to do as IG. After all, his was a political appointment, and it is well known that being a loyal Bushie is good enough to keep the White House happy.

According to McCaskill

Other IGs have been tied to potential misconduct as well. The Office of Special Council concluded that Department of Commerce IG Johnnie Frazier had wrongfully retaliated against employees who had questioned his excessive travel, and the Acting IG for the Environmental Protection Agency is currently being investigated for his plan to cut 60 staff members. Around the same time, he took a $15,000 bonus from the agency. In an instance of apparent misconduct by agency officials, former Homeland Security IG Kent Irvin has claimed he was not re-appointed to his position because some in the agency had labeled him a “traitor and a turncoat.”
All of these cases suggest an effort to politicize the role of the IG. That prompted former auditor McCaskill to introduce a bill, her first. Entitled "A bill to amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to enhance the independence of the Inspectors General, to create a Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, and for other purposes" and numbered S. 1723, the bill is intended to address the administration's apparent desire to politicize the role of Inspector General by giving IGs more independence from the agencies they inspect and requiring they be credentialed professionals.

In a statement provided by her office, McCaskill says the legislation will require that:
All IGs be appointed for seven years and are removable only for cause. Congress must be notified about the removal of an IG before it occurs and given a specific reason for the action.

No IG can accept a bonus.

Instead of submitting their annual budget requests to the agencies they oversee, IGs would submit those requests to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to Congress. OMB is the budget arm of the entire executive branch that determines the Administration’s budget request to Congress.

All IGs have their own legal counsel, allowing them to avoid a conflict of interest created by using agency counsels.

The Council on Integrity and Efficiency for Inspectors General will receive, review, and refer for investigation allegations of wrongdoing against Inspectors General or certain other staff members. In the event of a vacancy, the Council for Integrity and Efficiency will recommend three possible replacements to the appointing authority.

Credentials required of all IGs would be strengthened to assure that those in these oversight positions have oversight and management experience.

All IG websites be directly accessible from the home pages of agency websites and reports are posted within 24 hours of their release. An informal survey of government agencies found that many IG websites are not updated regularly and many agencies fail to include direct links to the IG page on their website.

This bill would help guarantee the expertise of persons appoint to the position of IG by having the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency recommend to the appointing authority three persons to fill vacant IG positions.
McCaskill's bill is similar to H.R. 928 introduced in the house by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). The bill is endorsed by The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), whose executive director Danielle Brian recently sent McCaskill a letter stating that
In recent years, POGO has been deeply troubled by a series of scandals involving IGs. Those scandals have raised questions about the integrity of the IG system and given rise to the need for Congress to address weaknesses in that system. Thank you for introducing excellent legislation designed to do exactly that.