A number of high-profile controversies surrounding government watchdogs do not indicate the Bush administration has an issue with the quality or administration of its inspectors general, according to a senior Office of Management and Budget official.
"Our general position is that we do not have an IG problem," OMB Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson said Thursday. In an interview to elaborate on the administration's objections to legislation intended to strengthen federal inspectors general, Johnson said the bill "attempts to fix things that don't need fixing."
The House has already passed a bill revamping the IG system. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a similar measure and it is expected to report it out in the next few weeks. The bills attempt to ensure IGs are independent through steps such as ensuring all have their legal counsel instead of using agency lawyers and barring IGs from receiving bonuses controlled by agency heads.
Democratic legislators have argued a series of recent controversies in which IGs appeared insufficiently independent of their agencies necessitate such steps. State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard recently stepped down amid charges he failed to aggressively oversee the department. NASA IG Robert Cobb has been accused by lawmakers of working too closely with agency leaders.
The head of the General Services Administration has been accused of cutting her IG's budget as part of a clash over contract audits. And the CIA has been charged with threatening the independence of its IG by conducting an internal probe of his activities.
Johnson, who has headed White House negotiations with the House and Senate on the IG issue, said that in most cases that have drawn attention, IGs or management faced controversy over allegations that remain unproven. And he said the IG bill is largely unrelated to those issues.
Nonetheless, Johnson said he has had productive discussions with legislators in both chambers and expects "we can get a bill that doesn't try to solve things that don't need to be solved," by focusing on shared goals such as improving how IGs are compensated.