Biden calls on agencies to help restore integrity of federal watchdogs


Washington DC photographed from Marine One Photo: White House Flickr

The White House has issued updated guidance for heads of federal departments and US executive agencies, urging them to cooperate better with watchdogs.

In one memorandum published earlier this month, Shalanda Young and Jason Miller, who are respectively Acting Director and Deputy Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB), highlighted their concerns that the executive had not provided their general inspectors (IG) with the full cooperation and access that they should be provided for by law.

“As leaders of your respective agencies, you and your staff have an obligation to cooperate with your respective IG offices in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities under the IG [Inspector General] Take action, ”they said.

the GI Law gives Inspectors General special powers to conduct independent audits and investigations that promote the “economy, efficiency and effectiveness” of federal agencies and “prevent and detect fraud and abuse” in their programs and operations. There are currently approximately 73 GIs working across the U.S. government.

However, under President Donald Trump, there have been attempts to undermine the independence of the Inspectors General, as well as the Government Accountability Office and congressional oversight.

During his tenure as president, Trump also sacked a State Department inspector for investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and replaced a Department of Health and Human Services inspector general for issuing a report. showing that hundreds of medical centers had struggled to obtain supplies. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Trump administration has also attacked whistleblowers, raising concerns about protections. A whistleblower was targeted in 2020 for leaking a phone call in which Trump allegedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former US Vice President and presidential campaign rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter .

The OMB’s latest guidance builds on the findings of a review released in August by the Board of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which found that many agency executives do not did not communicate the role of the IG to staff, nor their expectations for engagement.

Young and Miller stressed that resolving these issues is essential to ensure the timely completion of audits and investigations and to maintain the authority of GIs.

“The president expects executive departments and agencies to restore and respect the integrity and independence of their respective inspectors general and work with Congress to ensure that IG offices can exercise their role. vital surveillance, ”they said.

Restore authority

The guidelines advised agencies to regularly meet with IGs for candid conversations, which she said could “reduce the risk of antagonism that might otherwise spread throughout the organization.” He recommended that such conversations take place “in a non-audit setting”.

It was also suggested that agency heads choose a senior official to liaise with IG staff during audits to smooth relationships and resolve conflicts between them and the agency.

The guidelines say agencies should foster environments that allow whistleblowers to voice their concerns and report wrongdoing easily and safely “without fear of reprisal.” He reminded executives that it is illegal for agencies to “take, threaten to take, offer or not take personal action because of an employee’s whistleblowing activity.”

He also advised agencies to use risk management practices so that “agency management can inform their GIs when they deliberately decide to take additional risks”. He said this would make the IG’s recommendations more contextual, constructive and easier to apply.

Federal leaders have also been urged to respond more quickly to IG reports in order to avoid “sticking with open recommendations.” He said the OMB would make itself available to call meetings between the agency’s management and IGs to iron out disagreements.

Responding to the memorandum, CIGIE President Allison Lerner said the guidance was “unprecedented” and “would enhance the ability to [Offices of Inspectors General] conduct the independent oversight necessary to serve the interests of the American public ”.

She added: “The framework cooperation memorandum released today emphasizes what we believe to be best practices within the IG community. It helps communicate the vital issues of full GI access and cooperation consistently across the executive branch and will strengthen the independence of the Inspector General’s office.