Editorial: Federal corruption watchdogs are being denied access to necessary information/ LA Times

See the blog post below this one (from the NYT) on how Inspector Generals from over 70 federal agencies have been (illegally) (and continue to be) denied information by the agencies they are supposed to oversee. This thwarts the Inspector Generals from doing their jobs to root out corruption and mismanagement.  This denial of information is supported at the highest levels (i.e., by the White House).  The Inspector General system, placing independent watchdogs in executive branch agencies, was instituted by Congress in 1978 as a check and balance to executive branch power. 

Now, a month later, the LA Times has editorialized about this huge problem to our democracy.  They suggest that Congress fix it during the next session.  I think a lawsuit might speed things along, since the executive branch is not complying with the Inspector Generals Act:

Congress created the first inspectors general for federal agencies in 1978,
these in-house watchdogs have proved their worth again and again. Inspectors
general have investigated the CIA‘s
inhumane “enhanced interrogation methods,” revealed abuses in the FBI’s
acquisition of telephone and other records, and documented the selective
enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service of regulations governing political
spending by tax-exempt groups.

Given the nature of their mission, it is not terribly surprising
to learn from inspectors general for several federal agencies that their work
is being hampered by the unwillingness of the officials they monitor to provide
some necessary information — despite the fact that the Inspector General Act
requires that inspectors general have access to “all records, reports, audits,
reviews, documents, papers, recommendations or other material” necessary to do
their job.

The Justice Department has come under particular — and deserved
— criticism for stymieing the work of its inspector general. Beginning in 2010,
FBI lawyers argued that some records couldn’t be shared because of protections
in federal law. In July, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded
that the inspector general could be denied access to some information in three
categories: the contents of wiretaps, grand jury proceedings and credit

The author of that opinion, Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Karl R.
Thompson, concluded that the Inspector General Act’s requirement that
inspectors general have access to “all records” must be qualified in light of
the provisions of the federal Wiretap Act, the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure and Section 626 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. His opinion said
that the department could provide the inspector general with information
protected by these laws for “many, but not all” of its investigations.

That isn’t good enough for Michael E. Horowitz, the department’s
inspector general, who said that without greater access “our office’s ability
to conduct its work will be significantly impaired.” But the problem isn’t
confined to the Justice Department. In a letter to congressional leaders, the
council representing inspectors general from throughout the government warned
that the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion “represents a potentially serious
challenge to the authority of every inspector general and our collective
ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently and in a timely manner.”

In fairness to the Justice Department, laws must be read in
conjunction with others. And, legal interpretation aside, it’s important to
protect the privacy of personal information, including financial records and
the products of electronic surveillance, which can capture private
conversations of innocent people. But in such sensitive situations, information
can be provided to inspectors general with the understanding that it will be
redacted in any public report.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said that the department would
support legislation to clarify Congress’ intent. Fortunately, there is a
bipartisan effort in Congress to make it clear that, irrespective of other
laws, inspectors general are entitled to “all records” necessary for them to
perform their vital function. Enacting such a law must be a priority when
Congress returns to work.

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