New Law Strengthens Inspector General Independence

Beyond the Numbers

Date: 
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Posted by: 
The Communications Division

President Obama recently provided the Inspector General community with new legislation and a parting message of support.  

The President signed into law legislation that affirms IG access to information and data to combat fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement throughout the Federal government.

The Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016 amends the Inspector General Act of 1978, to include several new provisions designed to support and strengthen IG independence.

The law confirms that IGs “have timely access to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other materials available” related to the Federal programs and operations the IGs oversee.

Some IGs in recent years have seen their parent agencies withhold information, citing privacy laws and national security concerns, and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel supported the agencies’ decisions to withhold certain records. The new legislation eliminates any doubt about whether agencies can and should disclose potentially sensitive information to IGs, so IGs can conduct effective oversight.   

The law also includes an IG exemption to the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (CMPPA), which excuses IGs from obtaining formal matching agreements before matching data with other agencies and entities to identify fraud and waste. The IG community for many years has requested a CMPPA exemption, because the formal matching-agreement process can be time-consuming and unreasonably delay critical IG audit and investigative efforts.

The law includes several other provisions that support IGs, including an IG exemption to the Paperwork Reduction Act to allow the timely collection of information from large groups for audits or investigations; and a requirement that the Government Accountability Office complete a study on prolonged IG vacancies during which an acting IG has served, and report its findings to Congress.

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) has long encouraged Congress to address these and other issues and pass legislation that supports and enhances IG independence. CIGIE called the new law “a landmark piece of legislation welcomed by IGs and all advocates of government accountability and efficiency.” 

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sponsored the bill. The House and Senate passed the bill earlier this month; the President signed it into law on Dec. 16.        

The White House said the new legislation “strikes an appropriate balance between affording IGs the access they need and protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”

“IGs work on behalf of the American people to ensure that our government is open and accountable—and the President is grateful for their service,” the White House said in a statement. “That’s why he’s pleased to sign the Inspector General Empowerment Act.”