Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2016—Motion to Proceedby Senator Ron Johnson
Posted on 2015-11-04
JOHNSON. Mr. President, I rise today to urge passage of S. 579,
the Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2015. I want to thank my
friend, Senator Grassley, who just spoke, for his work on this bill and
for his longstanding commitment and dedicated promotion of
accountability and transparency for efficient government.
It is an unfortunate reality that the executive branch today is more powerful, more expansive, and less transparent than it has ever been. Senator Grassley and I are privileged to be the chairmen of committees that have expansive authorities and responsibilities to oversee the executive branch and all of its programs. But we need help in our efforts.
We are fortunate that Congress in 1978 created crucial partners for us: independent watchdogs embedded in each agency, accountable only to Congress and the American people. They are the American people's eyes and ears, and they are our best partner in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayers' hard-earned money.
This bill is about increasing agency accountability and transparency. It exempts IGs from time-consuming and independence-threatening requirements such as the computer matching and paperwork reduction statutes.
The bill also allows inspectors general, in limited circumstances, to compel the testimony of former agency employees or Federal contractors whose information they need to pursue cases of fraud and abuse. But the bill also ensures that inspectors general are made accountable to the public and to Congress.
Earlier this year, I issued a subpoena to the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part to produce the over 100 reports the inspector general had completed but not made public. One report that the VA inspector general kept from the public was a report on dangerous overprescription of opiates at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Tomah, WI--practices that resulted in the death of at least one Wisconsin veteran.
This is how important transparency is. The daughter of the Wisconsin veteran who died from substandard care at that facility told me that had she known about the practices at the facility--in other words, if the report had been made public--she never would have taken her father there, and he could be alive today.
I want that to sink in. The bottom line is transparency and accountability in government can literally be a matter of life and death. The VA inspector general is not the only offender. In 2013 the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General closed over 400 investigations but released only 3 of those to the public. This should not happen. The public deserves transparency and accountability.
An amendment that I offered in committee, and that was accepted unanimously, requires inspectors general to publicly post their work on their Web site within 3 days of providing the final report to the agency. So this bill will ensure that findings of misconduct, waste, and fraud are exposed to the public and to Congress.
The public also deserves an inspector general that is independent. One of the greatest threats to inspector general independence is when the President fails to nominate a permanent inspector general and leaves an acting IG in place who wants the permanent job.
In 2014, when I was ranking member of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, we found that the former acting inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, Charles Edwards, was compromised because of his desire to curry favor with the administration to get the permanent inspector general's job. We found he changed and delayed findings of reports to protect senior officials. That type of behavior is completely unacceptable.
In addition to using our powers as Members of Congress to call upon the President to nominate permanent inspectors general, as I have done for the Veterans Administration, this bill requires an independent study of problems with acting IGs and recommends ways to address them.
We know that many agencies are not in the business of transparency, and they often try to restrict their inspector general's work. As Senator Grassley already explained so well, we shouldn't have to clarify what was meant when we said IGs shall have access to all their agency's documents so they can do their work. Nonetheless, this bill will make it even clearer that ``all'' really does mean all.
This is a bipartisan cause. We want all inspectors general to be able to do their jobs well. That is why the substitute amendment I filed in September has 11 bipartisan cosponsors, spanning members of my committee, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Judiciary Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Intelligence Committee.
I want to thank my ranking member, Senator Tom Carper, for his support and the other cosponsors for their assistance in getting this bill passed. I urge my colleagues to support S. 579 and to support the work our IG partners do every day to try to keep our Nation safe, our agencies accountable, and our taxpayer dollars spent efficiently.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Georgia.
Justice For Former American Hostages In Iran Act Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, 36 years ago today, 53 Americans in the American Embassy in Tehran were captured, beaten, held hostage, and tortured. As I speak on the floor of the Senate today, in the streets of downtown Tehran, Iranian people are marching in the streets, burning American flags, yelling ``Death to America'' and celebrating the capture of our citizens 36 years ago today.