Empty watchdog posts draw concern from Senate oversight

The lack of permanent leadership at several agency inspector general offices has caused concern for a bipratisan group of senators charged with overseeing government operations, as the group called on President Donald Trump Sept. 13 to make a concerted effort at filling the positions,

“At present, we understand that there are nine vacancies of presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed IGs with no nominations pending and two vacancies for agency-appointed IGs,” members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs wrote in a letter to the president.

“Many of these positions have been vacant for over one year or more, including the Central Intelligence Agency, which has been vacant for over four years.”

Of the 74 IGs laid out in federal statute, half require a presidential nomination while the other half simply require appointment by the agency.

According to data collected by the Project on Government Oversight, 11 presidentially appointed IG positions currently lack permanent leaders, and only two of those currently have a nomination pending in the Senate.

The Export-Import Bank IG post has remained vacant the longest — since June 2014 — although Trump nominated Peter Coniglio for consideration for the post Sept. 10.

The lack of permanent IGs in the federal government is not a new issue. The same committee has sent a letter to the president in both 2015 and 2017 calling for the administration to move more expeditiously on such nominations, as the government faced seven and 10 vacancies respectively in each of those years.

In the absence of a permanent IG, the watchdog offices rely on acting leadership to oversee waste, fraud and abuse at their respective agencies.

“While many acting IGs have served admirably in the absence of permanent leadership, the lack of a permanent leader threatens to impede the ability of these offices to conduct the oversight and investigations necessary to ensure that taxpayer dollars are protected, public safety risks are identified and that whistleblowers who expose waste, fraud and abuse are protected,” the letter said.

“In addition, the lack of a permanent IG can create the potential for conflicts of interest and diminish the essential independence of IGs.”

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency has worked in recent years to increase the profile of the work IG offices produce, establishing a centralized website for agency IG reports, with aims to create a running database of open recommendations so that Congress and the public have a better picture of the problems at government agencies and what officials are doing or not doing to correct them.

Members of Congress have appeared to support these improvements, with a $1 million funding boost for the site allocated in the House-passed general government appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020.

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