Several Major Agencies Still Lack Permanent Watchdogs

John Roth was confirmed as Homeland Security Department Inspector General last week. John Roth was confirmed as Homeland Security Department Inspector General last week. Charles Dharapak/AP

The Senate’s recent vote confirming John Roth as Homeland Security Department watchdog represents solid progress in governmentwide oversight, according to an advocacy nonprofit that tracks inspectors general.

But the number of IG vacancies is still at nine, with “unreasonable vacancies” at the Interior Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to Joe Newman, communications director for the Project on Government Oversight. “The Interior vacancy is now in its 1,845th day, while USAID is on day 881. So, there's still a need for us and the media to raise awareness about these vacancies,” he told Government Executive.

POGO’s IG tracking tool, launched in Feb. 2012, has shown the vacancies as high as 12 and as low as seven across the federal government, with as many as seven agencies maintaining vacancies for more than a year.

The group discourages reliance on acting IGs. “Having a permanent inspector general in place is critical for effective oversight,” Newman added. “POGO has long believed that permanent IGs are more effective than acting and temporary IGs because they have greater job security. With job security comes a greater degree of independence, which is necessary for aggressive oversight.”

Roth’s arrival ends three years without a permanent IG at Homeland Security, one of the largest and most complex federal departments.

During Roth’s confirmation hearing, he was warned that he would face an uphill challenge of reconciling “warring camps” divided in their loyalties to then-acting DHS IG Charles Edwards, who was accused of misconduct, including favoritism in hiring. Edwards resigned in December.

After the Senate confirmed Roth by voice vote on March 6, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, praised his qualifications and said, “In an agency as large and important as the Department of Homeland Security, the office of the inspector general is a critical ally in the fight to ensure that taxpayer funds are protected and to deter or punish possible impropriety. It is vital to have a permanent, Senate confirmed leader in this office to ensure that it has the authority and legitimacy needed to conduct comprehensive investigations.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the panel’s ranking member, said,  “Roth will be a valuable asset for whistleblowers, the committee, and Congress alike in uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse within the department. I look forward to building off his findings with legislation that fixes the problems at DHS.”   

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