Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, shepherded the act through the House.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, shepherded the act through the House. Andrew Harnik/AP

Inspector General Empowerment Act Clears Congress

Bill “removes all doubt” about watchdog access to agency documents, backers say.

The Senate on Saturday handed the government’s 72 inspectors general a victory by approving, unanimously, a House-passed bill to enhance the watchdogs’ abilities to commandeer agency documents previously held due to privacy or other concerns.

The Inspector General Empowerment Act  (H.R. 6450), sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who shepherded it through the House on Thursday, confirms that inspectors general “are entitled to full and prompt access to agency records, thereby eliminating any doubt about whether agencies and whistleblowers are legally authorized to disclose potentially sensitive information to IGs,” as noted in a statement from the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which had long pressed for the bill.

Agencies such as the FBI and Environmental Protection Agency had cited privacy laws and national security demands as reasons for withholding some documents, a position backed by an opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in July 2015.

Not included in the bill is another tool some IGs had sought: subpoena power to compel sworn testimony from former agency employees and contractors.

“Passage of the IG Empowerment Act enhances the IGs' ability to fight waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct, protects whistleblowers who share information with IGs, increases government transparency and bolsters the public's confidence in the independence of IGs,” said Justice Department Inspector General and CIGIE Chair Michael Horowitz. “For these reasons, the act is an important milestone for good government. The inspector general community is grateful to the sponsors and co-sponsors of this act and all those who stood up for independent oversight."

The Senate version of the bill was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.