Bipartisan Coalition of Senators Introduces Legislation to Protect Inspector General Independence

On Thursday, Senator Chuck Grassley and nine bipartisan co-sponsors introduced legislation to protect federal watchdogs’ independence. The “Securing Inspector General Independence Act of 2020” comes at a critical time of declining public confidence in government and demonstrates Congressional commitment to independent oversight. 

in a recent article for The Hill, my former colleague Keith Ashdown and I urged Congress to protect federal watchdogs after President Trump recently fired and demoted four respected IGs: 

“…Congress cannot afford to leave federal watchdogs unprotected. Allowing a Republican president to strongarm and dismiss IGs erodes public accountability and trust in Congress and the fundamental operations of our government. It also establishes a dangerous precedent that future administrations could exploit….

…From the COVID-19 pandemic to the national protests over police brutality and racism, the American public is losing confidence in our political leaders and government. Our federal watchdogs are needed now more than ever. Congress must protect them..”

Senator Grassley’s bill does just that, based on a draft version I reviewed. (The legislation is not yet published on the Library of Congress site as of June 24th.) 

The bill would increase the threshold for firing an inspector general to include a “substantive rationale,” and require the President to notify Congress about the action. This notification would start a 30-day transition period for the IG’s removal (with reasonable exceptions). The bill would also establish a line-of-succession within an Office of Inspector General, ensuring that the “first assistant” to the IG (designated in writing by an Inspector General) fills the acting position. 

Each of these bipartisan reforms would protect IGs’ independence. Together, they would eliminate the incentive for a President to even consider firing an Inspector General for political reasons, since the Office’s ongoing investigations, audits, and inspection would surely continue.

These reforms are consistent with the Government Accountability Office’s recent recommendations for legislative reforms to protect Inspectors General independence. “IGs serve a critical role in accountability and transparency in government,” Comptroller General Dodaro wrote . “I urge Congress to use its constitutional oversight authorities to protect their independence.”

The Senators sponsoring the bipartisan legislation — Grassley, Peters, Portman, Carper, Lankford, Hassan, Romney, Tester, Collins, and Feinstein — deserve applause for their commitment to protecting independent, nonpartisan oversight of the executive branch. 

Now, it’s up to the committees and leadership to move this important legislation forward. 

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