Too often Congress is left “in the dark” when it comes to inspector general investigations of agency misconduct, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote in a letter to 73 government inspectors general late last week.
While formal methods exist to notify lawmakers of investigations, they are often under-used,Issa said in his letter sent August 3. Additional channels for keeping Congress up-to-date are almost completely neglected.
Issa said he wanted to “establish an understanding between Congress and the IG community” for more rapid reporting of agency misdeeds.
In his letter, Issa asked the inspectors general for more information about their reporting practices to Congress and whether there have ever been instances when serious problems were not shared with lawmakers.
Front and center in Issa’s letter are the revelations of wasteful spending at the General Services Administration uncovered by the agency’s Inspector General Brian Miller. Congress was not informed of the investigation, which turned up a lavish $800,000 regional conference in Las Vegas and other improprieties, until the investigation was almost a year old and the media learned of the inquiry in April.
Under the 1978 Inspector General Act, agency watchdogs are required to to notify Congress within seven days of “particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies.”
In practice, however, such notice is almost never provided.
A Government Accountability Office report in September found that during a three-year span beginning in fiscal year 2008, only one agency inspector general had actually issued a seven-day letter. Between 1990 and the middle of 1998, no agency inspectors general issued any such letters.
Seven-day letters are often used as a last resort, “to leverage agency leadership into taking action,” Issa wrote. But that means Congress is left out of the loop entirely, he said.
A broad provision in the IG law allows agencies more flexibility in informing Congress of serious problems, such as waste and fraud, he added.
“Rather than use the specter of communication with Congress for leverage, inspectors general should proactively provide information directly to members of Congress,” Issa wrote.
In particular, Issa said he wanted agency IGs to detail how many seven-day letters they’ve issued since January 2009 along with any investigations into serious wrongdoing that they never reported to Congress.