Biden urges US agencies to ‘restore integrity’ of federal watchdogs after Trump attacks

By on 12/12/2021 | Updated on 02/02/2022
An aerial view of Washington, D.C. is seen from Marine One, Tuesday, August 10, 2021, en route to the White House from Wilmington, Delaware. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The White House has issued updated guidance to heads of US federal departments and executive agencies urging them to better co-operate better with watchdogs.

In a memorandum published earlier this month, Shalanda Young and Jason Miller, who serve as acting director and deputy director of the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) respectively, highlighted concerns that executive branch agencies had not provided their inspectors general (IGs) with the full cooperation and access they should be provided by law.

“As leaders of your respective agencies, you and your staff have an obligation to co-operate with your respective IG offices as they fulfil their statutory responsibilities under the IG [Inspector General] Act,” they said.

The IG Act gives inspectors general special powers to perform independent audits and investigations that promote the “economy, efficiency, and effectiveness” of federal agencies and “prevent and detect fraud and abuse” in their programmes and operations. There are currently around 73 IGs working across the US government.

However, under the presidency of Donald Trump there were attempts to undermine the independence of inspectors general, as well as the Government Accountability Office and congressional oversight.

In his term as president, Trump also sacked a state department inspector for investigating then secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and replaced an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services for publishing a report showing that hundreds of medical centres had struggled to obtain supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Trump administration also attacked whistleblowers, raising concerns about protections. One whistleblower was targeted in 2020 for disclosing a phone call in which Trump allegedly asked Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former US vice president and presidential campaign rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.

The OMB’s latest guidance draws on findings from a review published in August by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which found that many agency leaders had not communicated the IG’s role to staff, or their expectations around engagement.

Young and Miller stressed that addressing these issues was vital to ensuring the timely completion of audits and investigations and upholding IGs’ authority.

“It is the president’s expectation that executive departments and agencies will restore and respect the integrity and independence of their respective agency inspectors general and work with the Congress to ensure that IG offices can exercise their vital oversight role,” they said.

Re-establishing authority

The guidance advised agencies to meet routinely with IGs for candid conversations, which it said could “reduce the risk of antagonism that may otherwise cascade throughout the organisation”. It recommended such conversations take place “in a non-audit setting”.

Also included was the suggestion that agency leaders choose a senior official to liaise with IG staff during audits to smooth relations and resolve conflicts between them and the agency.

The guidance said agencies should foster environments that make it easy and safe for whistleblowers to voice concerns and report wrongdoing “without fear of retaliation”. It reminded leaders that is it unlawful for agencies to “take, threaten to take, propose, or not take a personnel action because of an employee’s whistleblowing activities”.

It also advised agencies to use risk management practices so that “agency leadership can inform their IG when they are purposely deciding to take on added risk”. It said this would make IG recommendations more contextual, constructive, and easier to act on.

Federal leaders were also urged to respond more quickly to IG reports to avoid “lingering open recommendations”. It said the OMB would make itself available to convene meetings between agency leadership and IGs to smooth out disagreements.

Responding to the memorandum, CIGIE chair Allison Lerner said the guidance was “unprecedented” and would “enhance the ability of [Offices of Inspectors General] to conduct the independent oversight that is needed to serve the interests of the American public”.

She added: “The framework cooperation memorandum issued today emphasises what we believe to be the best practices across the IG community. It helps communicate the vital issues of full IG access and cooperation consistently throughout the Executive Branch and will strengthen office of inspector general independence.”

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Gregg salmi says:

    Restore integrity.we lost or livelihoods under Obama Biden. your administration is not fulfilling its obligations under the eeoc l discrimination lawsuite we won to make us whole

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