On March 4th, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) reintroduced the bipartisan Securing Inspector General Independence Act in the 117th Congress. First introduced last June, the Act would amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to guarantee that the President or other certain agency heads only remove Inspectors General (IGs) with proper Congressional oversight.
The bill addresses attempts by past presidential administrations to circumvent the Inspector General Act through the use of cursory notices of termination of those potentially embarrassing investigations, installment of political appointees to serve as IGs, and placing IGs on administrative leave during the Congressional notification period.
The recent ousters of highly respected Inspectors General Atkinson, Fine, and Linick, for example, sent a chilling message to IGs and all those who work with them – including whistleblowers – to investigate waste, fraud and abuse within the government. Inspectors General are meant to be independent watchdogs and must be able to perform their investigative and audit duties without fear of reprisal or partisan politics.
The Securing Inspector General Independence Act requires that appropriate reasoning must be provided in order to remove an IG and establishes requirements for placing IGs on administrative leave. Additionally, the bill denotes who can serve as an IG, limiting the pool of acting IGs to senior officials within an IG office. If an IG is on administrative leave, then the acting IG must come from within that IG’s office. In order to fulfill the duties of IGs to protect whistleblowers, this bill also requires IG Offices to provide annual training to employees on whistleblower.
In response to the bill’s original introduction in 2020, John Kostyack, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, said:
“The National Whistleblower Center applauds Senator Grassley for addressing the threats to the independence and integrity of the Inspectors General. The American people depend on Inspectors General to be fair and unbiased in order to root out corruption and safely protect whistleblowers who bring evidence of misconduct forward…This critically needed bill will strengthen safeguards for IGs so that no Inspector General is terminated unjustly.”