Chairs Maloney, Connolly, and Lynch Laud GAO Report Touting Importance of Inspector General Independence
Washington, D.C. (June 8, 2020)—Today, Committee and Oversight Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, and Subcommittee on National Security Chairman Stephen F. Lynch issued the following statement after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report highlighting the critical importance of independent Inspectors General (IGs) as watchdogs of government, stewards of taxpayer dollars, and investigators of mismanagement and abuse:
“Today’s new report sounds the alarm on the need to protect the independence of Inspectors General. This report warns against the dangers of the President naming as ‘acting’ IGs political appointees who are already serving in senior positions under the Department heads they are supposed to oversee. This abuse must end. In light of this report, we believe Acting IG Akard and Acting IG Elliott should cease serving as Acting IGs at the Departments of State and Transportation immediately. President Trump has attacked the independence of IGs to cover up what is obvious—his Administration is failing us, and they are afraid of truly independent oversight.”
Today’s report—which is being released in the midst of President Donald Trump’s unwarranted attacks against five IGs—includes the following findings:
- “To ensure proper application of GAGAS [generally accepted government auditing standards], IGs must be independent both of mind and in appearance.”
- “Given the current challenges facing the federal government, the oversight provided through independent government audits and investigations is more critical than ever.”
- “Threats to independence compromise the integrity of an OIG’s work and limit quality information available to Congress to conduct meaningful oversight over the agency.”
- “A majority of the permanent IGs we surveyed did not think that acting IGs are inherently less independent of mind, but a majority indicated that an acting IG is less independent in appearance than a permanent IG.”
- “Unique independence challenges exist when an acting IG holds a position as a senior employee or PAS official of the agency (outside of the OIG) or a PAS official at another agency other than in the OIG.”
- “We have expressed concerns about the independence implications of such scenarios. In a 2007 report and testimony on the Department of State OIG, we stated that the extended use of temporarily assigned agency management staff to head an OIG can affect the perceived independence of the entire office in its reviews of agency operations.”
- The Comptroller General stated, “I urge Congress to use its constitutional oversight authorities to protect their independence.”
On May 22, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Chairman Connolly, and Chairman Lynch introduced the Inspector General Independence Act to protect IGs from being fired for political retaliation by requiring any removal be for cause.
On May 1, 2020, Rep. Katie Porter, Chairwoman Maloney, Chairman Connolly, and several other Members introduced the Accountability for Acting Officials Act. The bill would require that Acting IGs be selected from the First Assistant in an Office of Inspector General if there is a First Assistant. GAO recommends this approach in today’s report.
In the past three months, President Trump has repeatedly attacked the independence of IGs:
- On April 3, 2020, President Trump informed Congress he was removing Michael Atkinson as Inspector General of the Intelligence Community because Mr. Atkinson was “not a Trump fan” and because he followed the law in alerting the congressional intelligence committees that the whistleblower complaint that revealed the President’s abuse of power and ultimately led to his impeachment.
- On April 6, 2020, President Trump removed Glenn Fine from his position as Department of Defense Acting Inspector General. At the time of his removal, Mr. Fine had been appointed to serve as the Chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) within the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, and the removal rendered him ineligible to serve as the Chair of the PRAC. On May 26, 2020, Mr. Fine resigned from government service.
- On April 7, 2020, during a White House press briefing one day after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) IG released a report on hospital shortages, President Trump publicly attacked Christi Grimm, the Principal Deputy Inspector General performing the duties of HHS IG, accusing her of being an Obama appointee, despite the fact that she served eight years in the Bush Administration, and he tweeted that the hospital report was a “Fake Dossier,” citing a number of completely baseless claims.
- On May 15, 2020, President Trump notified Congress that he intended to remove the IG of the Department of State, Steve Linick. On May 21, 2020, Chairs Maloney, Connolly, and others sent letters to Secretary Mike Pompeo and Acting Inspector General Stephen Akard urging the reinstatement of Inspector General Linick and raising concerns about conflicts of interest for Mr. Akard while continuing to also serve as the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions reporting directly to Secretary Pompeo. On June 3, 2020, Inspector General Linick appeared for a transcribed interview with Committee staff and stated: “I have not heard any valid reason that would justify my removal.” Mr. Linick also noted that, as Acting IG, Akard would decide whether a State IG review goes forward and whether a report is published.
- Also on May 15, 2020, President Trump designated Howard Elliott to serve as the Acting IG for the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Elliott will also continue to serve as the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within DOT. On May 19, 2020, Chairs Maloney, Connolly, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio sent letters to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Acting Inspector General Elliott expressing grave concern about the inherent conflict of interest of him serving Acting IG while also reporting directly to Secretary Elaine Chao as the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.