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Grassley: IG’s need complete, timely access

US Capitol 3By The Iowa Statesman

 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley took to the floor of the Senate to issue the following statement with regard to the complete and timely access for Inspectors General to conduct their necessary oversight of executive branch functions.

Mr. President, the ability of the Congress to be a check on the actions of the executive branch is endangered.  One of the tools we have created to help the government identify and correct its mistakes is being obstructed.  I refer to the vital work of Inspectors General.

Inspectors General work in nearly 80 federal agencies.  They perform audits, conduct investigations and issue public reports of their findings and recommendations.  They combat waste, fraud and abuse.

But, their work is being frustrated.

To keep an eye on what is happening inside a government agency, the Inspector General must be able to access the agency’s records.  And this is exactly what the law calls for.

The Inspector General Act of 1978 directs that Inspectors General have a right to access ALL records, documents and other materials.  If the Inspector General deems a document necessary to do his job, then the agency should turn it over immediately.

But, the clear command of that law is being ignored far too often.  Agencies partially comply or refuse to turn over materials after a lengthy review and screening process by lawyers for the agency.  The examples range from the Environmental Protection Agency to the FBI and even to the Peace Corps.  The excuses vary but the pattern is clear.

For example, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is reviewing the Department’s use of the material witness statute.  That statute authorizes detaining certain witnesses for testimony before a grand jury.  The Inspector General was looking into allegations that the civil rights and civil liberties of certain material witnesses may have been abused.  This is just the kind of thing that Congress relies on Inspectors General to investigate.  And if problems are found, the Inspector General helps our government identify the problem and helps department leadership fix those problems.

Naturally, the Inspector General needed to review the grand jury testimony to decide if the value of that testimony was reasonable given the burden imposed on the witnesses.  Three U.S Attorneys offices and the Department’s National Security Division provided the Inspector General with the grand jury information concerning material witnesses.  But, the FBI refused to cooperate.

The FBI claimed that grand jury testimony could not be shared with the Inspector General.  This FBI decision to withhold information was a new practice, beginning sometime in 2010.  And the FBI claimed it had the right to refuse to provide the IG information in over a dozen other categories as well.

Remember – the law says the Inspector General shall have access to ALL records, documents and other materials they deem necessary to conduct their investigations.  And yet the FBI says its attorneys will review material first and decide what it would and would not release to the Inspector General.

It gets worse.

The FBI claimed it needed the approval of the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General to provide information to the Inspector General.  This is exactly upside down!

Under the law, an inspector general must be independent.  Agencies cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.  If an inspector general had to ask for permission from senior leadership, he would not be truly independent.

The Inspector General Act of 1978 does allow the Attorney General – not the FBI – to prohibit the Inspector General from carrying out or completing an investigation BUT only in certain limited circumstances.  When that extraordinary step is taken it must be done in writing to the Inspector General.  And the Inspector General must forward that written notice to Congress.

The FBI would have us believe that instead of written notice being required to block an IG investigation it needs written permission to comply with an investigation.  That is simply not how the law is designed to work.  So after this controversy arose, Congress took action.

We essentially bolded and underlined the provision in the Inspector General Act that ensures access to documents.  Not literally.  But, this year’s Justice Department Appropriation declares that no funds should be used to deny the Inspector General timely access to all records.  The new law also directed the Inspector General to report to Congress within five days whenever there was a failure to comply with this requirement.

Since February of this year, we have already received four of those reports that the FBI is still refusing to comply.  One notice said the FBI was withholding evidence in two whistleblower cases.  I have written to the FBI twice about these notices, and just received a reply from the FBI Wednesday.  Unfortunately the FBI ignores most of the questions I asked and simply reasserts their position.

The FBI is not above the law.  It has an obligation to comply not only with the Inspector General Act, but also with the restrictions Congress placed on its appropriations.  That means, FBI employees cannot legally be spending their time withholding and reviewing documents before providing them to the Inspector General.

We must stay vigilant and insist that all government agencies, including the FBI, work with Inspectors General—not against them.

I applaud my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for standing up for Inspectors General.  And, I also urge them to follow through, and help make sure the funding restrictions they put in place are obeyed.

As I noted earlier the problem is not confined to the FBI or the Department of Justice.  Similar attempts to limit the work of an Inspector general have occurred at the EPA and the Peace Corps.  Just last year 47 Inspectors General signed a letter to the Congress warning of these problems across the government.

We all lose when Inspectors General are delayed or prevented in doing their work.  In every agency where IG’s work, they help agency management become aware of problems and opportunities to improve.  So we must support the work of Inspectors General and remind government agencies that blocking their investigations is not acceptable.