About 14% of federal entities are lacking a fully confirmed inspector general, leaving a critical hole in oversight that Congress says the Biden administration needs to address with nominations.
Government watchdogs have been missing from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development for nearly three years. There are roughly 75 statutory inspector general positions authorized for cabinet-level agencies and smaller federal boards, like the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to the White House on Monday, saying Congress is particularly concerned by vacancies at State and USAID “at a time when [these agencies] are engaged in sensitive matters impacting U.S. national security interests around the world.”
Overall, there are 10 current acting inspectors general performing the duties of the office. Having an acting official serve the position of inspector general is not longterm tenable solution, as Senate-confirmed leaders go through an extensive vetting process that “helps instill confidence among Congress, agency officials, whistleblowers, and the public,” the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight reported in 2018. Temporary leadership also inhibits the ability of the inspector general office to commit to longterm plans, POGO said.
“At a minimum, leaving in place acting IGs for prolonged periods of time sends a message to the American people that oversight and accountability is not a priority for the Biden Administration,” Comer’s letter reads.
The latest inspector general to be confirmed was Robert Storch, who assumed the position at the Department of Defense in December 2022.
The bar to become an inspector general is high; the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency keeps an internal list of resumes, both received and solicited by the council, and provides them to the White House as part of the vetting process. Though the position is apolitical, inspectors general have been thrust into partisan debates based on expectations by some they they should be more disciplinary than purely investigative.
That’s part of the discourse surrounding Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, who in a hearing Tuesday was questioned about his willingness to cooperate on investigations regarding the Secret Service’s use of cell phones and sexual harassment of Homeland Security employees.
And an inspector general may be removed by the president. Four inspectors general were removed by Donald Trump and the general lack of limits on removal power have prompted some to recommend amending the rules to require termination to meet certain criteria.
In December 2021, Biden’s Office of Management and Budget sent out a memo setting the expectation for agencies to “restore and respect the integrity and independence of their respective agency inspectors general.”
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.