A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Feb. 26 to strengthen agency inspectors general and improve oversight and misconduct investigations.

The bill would amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to allow them to write testimonial subpoenas for federal contractors and former federal employees. Current authority for the most part extends to current employees.

Inspectors general would also be able to review some agency computer data without having to get the agency's permission, which would promote greater transparency, according to the legislation.

Senators. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., ranking member of the permanent subcommittee on investigations are sponsoring the legislation.

Johnson said the mission of inspectors general and his Senate committee are the same, and that strengthening agency IGs should be a bipartisan goal. He said the IGs at each agencies perform crucial missions to root out waste and fraud.

"We should not delay any longer. This bill gives inspectors general more tools to investigate agencies and ferret out improper payments, and it helps ensure the independence of our federal watchdogs," Johnson said.

The legislation would also require the Government Accountability Office to report on the numbers and effects of IG vacancies, and requires IGs to keep congress better informed of agency failures to reprimand employees or of efforts to interfere with IG independence.

The president would not be able to place an IG on administrative leave without notifying both houses of Congress of the reasons why; and such leave could only last 10 days unless the Integrity Committee of the Council of the Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency recommends the leave be extended.

Grassley said the legislation cuts those lengthy administrative delays that could sideline investigations for months or even years as the IG is investigated.

"That's not good for agency oversight or the morale of inspector general employees. It's not helpful for the taxpayers. This legislation cuts these delays so cases are resolved in a reasonable amount of time or Congress gets an explanation of why not," he said.

McCaskill said as a former prosecutor and auditor she understands the work of agency IGs in combating waste, fraud and abuse in government.

"This bipartisan legislation will help give them the tools they need to do effective, efficient oversight work, which I'm hopeful can give Americans a little more faith in the transparency and accountability of their government," McCaskill said.

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