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Are Agencies Stonewalling Inspectors General?

Sen. Grassley blasts administration after 47 watchdogs complain of agency roadblocks.

At least one congressional overseer appears sympathetic to a letter lawmakers received Monday from 47 inspectors general complaining that they are being denied access to key agency records.

The Justice Department, the Peace Corps, and the Chemical Safety Board were cited by the watchdogs for having invoked, in recent weeks, authority to withhold certain documents. This violated the 1978 law that created independent auditors within agencies, the IGs said. “Refusing, restricting or delaying an inspector general’s access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency’s performance,” wrote the IGs, listed in alphabetical order by agency.

The Peace Corps officials resisted turning over some records based on their reading of the law protecting the privacy of overseas volunteers who report being victims of sexual assault. The Chemical Safety Board cited attorney-client privilege in an ongoing dispute about alleged top-level retaliation against whistleblowers. And Justice, the IGs noted, eventually turned over the requested documents to the auditors but cited authority that benefits agency leadership, not IG independence.

“These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every inspector general and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner,” the watchdogs wrote.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, promised action on the letter. “This is an administration that pledged to be the most transparent in history,” he said in a statement. “Yet, these non-partisan, independent agency watchdogs say they are getting stonewalled. How are the watchdogs supposed to be able to do their jobs without agency cooperation? Inspectors general exist to improve agencies and get the most bang for every tax dollar. Even before today’s letter, I was working on legislation to help inspectors general deal with agency stonewalling, among other problems, and working with the committees of jurisdiction.”

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