Watchdogs

Watchdogs would get subpoena power under a bipartisan bill

Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced legislation May 24 that would give agency inspectors general the authority to subpoena testimony from former employees and contractors, as a tool to better uncover waste, fraud and abuse.

The Inspector General Testimonial Subpoena Authority Act would enable IG’s to issue court-enforced subpoenas to relevant persons that refuse to testify in an investigation.

“Inspectors general are on the front lines fighting abuse and misconduct in government, but time and again, we’ve seen government officials simply leave government service to avoid scrutiny. This bill empowers inspectors general to compel testimony from former employees so bad actors in government can’t simply run from accountability by exiting government,” Grassley said in a news release.

It is not uncommon for IG reports into personnel misconduct to conclude that the person being investigated has already left public service and did not choose to answer investigation questions.

IGs currently have the legal authority to issue court-enforceable administrative subpoenas for documentary requests, which includes “documents, reports, answers, records, accounts, papers and other data,” relevant to the investigation.

This bill would expand that authority to include compelling in-person testimony from former federal employees, contractors and grantees that may be deemed to have essential knowledge to an investigation.

IGs would still not have the authority to subpoena current federal employees, who can be compelled to testify by other means.

“We must root out government waste and abuse. Strengthening the powers of inspectors general so that they can complete their investigations is a commonsense step we can take to better prevent bad actors from wasting taxpayer money,” said Hassan in a news release.

“I’m glad to work with Sen. Grassley on this bipartisan effort and look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues to increase accountability and transparency in our government.”

The Senate bill mirrors similar legislation introduced in the house by Reps. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., in March, though the Senate bill does not include provisions that would require IG’s to receive subpoena approval from a supervisory board.

Instead, IG’s must only submit notice of their subpoena to the attorney general seven days before issuing it.

The Inspector General Testimonial Subpoena Authority Act is part of a larger congressional effort to secure IG independence and ensure that such offices are properly resourced to perform their jobs.

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