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Providing Needed Oversight On An Oversight Report Of The Government’s Chief Auditors

Today’s Washington Post notes a new report from the Project on Government Oversight detailing the problems faced by Inspectors General, the chief auditing officers against government waste and corruption. As I noted in a piece three weeks ago, a troubling number of IG’s face political meddling from agency heads and lack sufficient staff and money to carry out investigations.

The Post piece on IG troubles is misleading, though, as its “news” is a problem that’s been around for 20 years. That’s the division between Inspectors General appointed by the President and those appointed by agency heads. A 1988 amendment to the 1978 Inspectors General Act said that the President should appoint and the Senate must confirm IG’s for larger agencies, like the State Dept. and Dept. of Defense. Smaller agencies, however, like the Consumer Product Commission, internally appoint IG’s.

The amendment’s supposed result is that presidentially appointed IG’s have great staff, professional independence and legal representation while agency appointed IG’s have no budget and are too close to the bosses they investigate. But while this division is indeed a crucial one, the problem with IG’s is much more complicated to classify.

As Kenneth Gold, the director of the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, told me, “If you’ve met one IG, you’ve met one IG- they’re all over the map.” Indeed, some Presidential appointed IG’s do exceptional work such as the Interior Department’s Earl Deveney. Deveney’s exposes into park police literally falling asleep on the job has made front-page news. On the other hand, recent State Dept. IG Howard “Cookie” Krongard resigned in 2006 after accusations he was stonewalling criminal investigations and was a little too cozy with Pentagon and State contractor Blackwater. Defense Department IG Joseph Schmitz resigned at that same time. Schmitz says he had informed of his superiors of his plans a year before and that his departure was not related to accusations he had blocked two investigations. An official inquiry later concluded that Schmitz had not violated any law, rule or regulation.

But the problems aren’t limited to presidentially appointed IG’s that don’t do their job. President Bush named John Helgerson CIA Inspector General. Yet the President took no action when CIA Director Michael Hayden turned the tables and started investigating Helgerson. Nor has he denounced Hayden’s unprecedented move of getting an omsbudsman to check over Helgerson’s work.

The woes of IG’s at places like the Smithsonian and National Archives are certainly important and should be belatedly remedied. But the Post misses the more alarming news- IG’s at the government biggest national security agencies are often not investigating U.S. national security.

***Update/Correction: ***We reported in this post on Feb. 29, 2008 that Joseph Schmitz, the Pentagon’s former inspector general “resigned after accusations [he was] stonewalling investigations and a little too cozy with Pentagon and State contractor Blackwater.” Schmitz has since told us that his resignation was unconnected to those accusations. He said he had notified Donald Rumsfeld of his intent to resign fully one year prior, more than six months before Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) launched a probe into whether Schmitz had blocked two criminal investigations in 2004. Schmitz left public office to become chief operating officer and general counsel of the Prince Group, the parent company of Blackwater.

Schmitz has provided The Washington Independent with an Oct. 23, 2006 letter from the chair of the Integrity Committee, reflecting that based on its review of the allegations concerning Mr. Schmitz’s service as inspector general of the Defense Department, it “concluded that [Mr. Schmitz] had not violated any law, rule or regulation, and that [he] had not engaged in gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, or abuse of authority in connection with any of the matters under review.”

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