Criminal investigators in 23 federal inspectors general offices would be granted permanent special police powers under a legislative proposal put forth by the Justice Department and discussed before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday.
The proposal would legally recognize police powers-including authority to carry firearms, make arrests, and issue warrants-already exercised through a temporary provision, known as "blanket deputation," established by DOJ. On January 31, 2001, the provision will run out.
The 1978 Inspector General Act created independent audit and investigative offices in 12 federal agencies. OIGs have been established at several other agencies since then, but the law does not provide firearm, arrest, or warrant authority for IG agents.
In recent years, OIGs have become more involved in investigating criminal conspiracies against the government-making firearm, arrest, and warrant powers necessary for safety and for reducing requests for traditional law enforcement support.
In the mid-1980s, the Department of Justice approved a temporary provision allowing the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) to grant special police powers to fully trained IG agents on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of the Attorney General. Due to the administrative burdens caused by a case-by-case system, the provision was expanded to a blanket deputation for the 23 major OIGS.
"We have reached a point where we are now providing deputations to over 2,500 inspector general personnel. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 2,800 deputy U.S. marshals. The USMS simply lacks the resources to process and monitor all of these individuals-who do not report to the USMS for any practical purpose," said Nicholas M. Gess, associate deputy attorney general at DOJ.
Gaston L. Gianni, Jr., vice chair of the president's council on integrity and efficiency, said taking away IG's special police powers would "jeopardize literally thousands of open investigations of fraud against agency programs across government."
Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation that would reform other aspects of the 1978 IG Act. Key provisions in S. 870 include: a prohibition against accepting cash awards or bonuses; a proposed pay raise; annual, instead of semi-annual reports, external reviews of OIG operations by the General Accounting Office or another outside party, and a renewable nine-year term of office for inspectors general.
S. 870 is currently in committee in the Senate.