Compromise Takes Shape for Inspectors General Bill

By Stephen Barr
Friday, April 25, 2008; D04

After a decade of debate, Congress appears ready to strengthen the independence of the government’s inspectors general.

The Senate, on a voice vote late Wednesday, approved a bill that would set job qualifications for inspectors general, allow Congress to determine if an agency was trying to punish an IG by cutting his or her budget and ensure that all audits and investigative reports are posted on agency Web sites within three workdays.

“This bill is key to preserving the IGs’ role as government watchdogs and making sure they can do their job of rooting out waste in this country,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a statement. She and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) are the bill’s chief sponsors.

The House approved a similar bill in October, championed by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), on a vote of 404 to 11. But the Bush administration lodged a veto threat against Cooper’s bill, prompting the Senate to soften its version while still trying to protect IGs from political pressure.

House and Senate aides plan to hold informal talks on how to shape a compromise bill. Some of the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were optimistic that an agreement could be reached that would pass muster at the White House.

Cooper yesterday praised the Senate’s action: “With the passage of Sen. McCaskill’s companion bill, we’re one step closer to seeing this legislation signed into law. I’m encouraged by the nearly unanimous votes in both chambers and look forward to working out a good compromise.”

Inspectors general walk fine lines in the government. Those who end up at large agencies are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate and are expected to serve both masters. They are supposed to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse in agencies, while doing their best not to blindside the political appointees that run them.

Last year, some Democrats expressed concern in hearings that some inspectors general seemed too wary of crossing their bosses; others suggested that IGs need to be held more accountable for their work.

The House bill moved first, drawing objections from the White House. Those objections contributed to Senate efforts to create a bill able to win bipartisan support, leading to slightly different approaches in three areas.

Cooper’s bill would provide IGs with seven-year terms, let them submit budget requests directly to Congress and permit the White House to fire them only for cause.

The Senate bill would not provide a guaranteed term in office, would require the White House to show how much money each IG requested and the amount recommended in the president’s budget, and would require a notification about any effort to remove an IG.

But both bills would urge the appointment of IGs with “demonstrated ability” in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration or investigations. The bills would also create a council to review allegations of wrongdoing made against IGs and their staffs.

The bills would address pay issues within the IG corps. IGs at large agencies would be paid at the midpoint of the executive pay schedule (currently $158,500) plus 3 percent extra. IGs at smaller agencies would be paid at rates comparable to those of other senior executives.

Under both bills, no IG would be able to accept a bonus.

Engineers Back Obama

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents engineers, scientists and technicians at the departments of Defense and Energy and at NASA, has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, the union announced yesterday.

The Illinois Democrat is the best candidate to address civil service, health care, outsourcing, trade and other issues important to the union, said Gregory Junemann, its president.

The union represents about 85,000 workers in the public and private sectors. It helped organize a labor coalition to oppose an attempt by the Bush administration to curb union rights at the Defense Department.

Talk Shows

Craig W. Floyd, chairman and chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, will be the guest on “FedTalk” at 11 a.m. today on http://federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

David L. Norquist, chief financial officer at the Department of Homeland Security, will be the guest on the IBM “Business of Government Hour” at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr’s e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.

 

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