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Claire M.
Democrat MO

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 579

    by Senator Claire McCaskill

    Posted on 2015-12-15

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    McCASKILL. Mr. President, I am on the floor this afternoon to talk about S. 579, which is called the Inspector General Empowerment Act, but it really ought to be called ``Let the inspectors general do their jobs.'' As I look back on my time as a State auditor and I think of all I learned about how government works well and how government behaves badly, I have a special point of respect for inspectors general because of the work I did as an auditor. I believe they are our first line of defense against waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. We should be helping them every way we can to do their jobs.

    I want to thank Senator Johnson, the chairman of the committee I serve on that has primary jurisdiction on government oversight, and I want to thank Senator Grassley for his long championing the cause of inspectors general and the GAO and all of the noble public servants who are out there every day trying to uncover government behaving badly.

    This bill serves three main purposes. It provides additional authority to inspectors general to enhance their ability to conduct oversight investigations. It reforms the process by which the Council of the Inspectors General integrity committee investigates accusations against IGs, which is very important. IGs need to be above reproach. Any whiff of politics, any whiff of unethical conduct, any whiff of self-dealing--we have to empower the Council of the Inspectors General to deal with that in a way that is effective.

    It restores the intent of the 1978 Inspectors General Act to ensure that IGs have timely access to documents they need to conduct good, comprehensive oversight audits and investigations.

    [[Page S8666]] Many of the provisions are authorities that the IGs have been seeking for a long time, and most of them are beyond noncontroversial.

    I wish to focus on one section of the bill for a minute and explain how critical its provision is to congressional overseers and for the taxpayers. The main issue I wish to talk about today is the section of the bill that ensures IGs have access to all agency documents. The Inspector General Act, which was passed in 1978, explicitly grants access to ``all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material.'' For the last 37 years, we lived in a world where ``all'' meant all. But this summer, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion that allows agencies to withhold documents from the inspectors general. Other than national security concerns, intelligence concerns, and statutes that explicitly restrict disclosure of documents to IGs, all of which are addressed by this bill, there is absolutely no reason that IGs should have their access to documents restricted. There is no universe in which the Inspector General Act should be interpreted to mean anything less than what it says. They have to have access to the documents or they can't do their work. It really isn't any more complicated than that.

    The convoluted legal reasoning that is being implemented by the counsel at the Department of Justice is a big step backwards for effective oversight of our government. We can't expect them to do their jobs well without fear or favor if they can't get access to the information that is vital to their work.

    When the auditors in my office came back with an access issue, my instruction to them was this: Well, get on your ``dog with a bone act,'' because if they are trying to withhold documents from you, there is something in those documents we need to see.

    I think if every agency knows that the inspector general has access to documents, it will have a deterrent effect on people behaving badly with taxpayer money or engaging in self-dealing or other activities that frustrate taxpayers and heighten the level of cynicism that, frankly, right now is breaking my heart in this country about our government.

    I join with my Republican colleagues today in asking unanimous consent for this bill to be brought up. We have worked on it for years. It is time. I appreciate the hard work of both on this, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with them trying to get this one across the finish line.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wisconsin.

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