House Democrats Seek Background on Rumored Inspector General Firings

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

A rumored Trump administration plan to seek mass resignations among the 72 inspectors general—now reportedly abandoned—prompted two Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to ask the White House for an explanation.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the panel’s ranking member, and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Tuesday wrote to White House Counsel Donald McGahn II asking for the names of Trump transition team members who allegedly, around Jan. 13, contacted inspectors general  to warn that their posts are “temporary” and that they “should begin looking for other employment.”

The lawmakers also seek confirmation on whether Trump indeed has abandoned the “scheme,” saying some worried agency watchdogs had contacted the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency as well as oversight panel Republicans to air their concerns.

“If these reports are accurate,” the lawmakers wrote, “the actions by Trump administration officials demonstrate a troubling pattern of misguided and politically motivated attacks on government watchdogs, ethics officials, and career government employees.” They cited a series of recent incidents in which the Trump transition staff or White House staff officials asked for sensitive information from the Energy and State Departments or sought to discredit the Office of Government Ethics’ questioning of Trump’s plans for removing potential conflicts of interest presented by his business holdings.

IGs serve as independent government watchdogs and by law are appointed without regard to political affiliation. Whether Trump transition officials fully understood the role of IGs and the protections surrounding their work is unclear.

Efforts to enlist senators to join the House lawmakers’ inquiry fell short. A spokeswoman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., a longtime supporter of IGs, told Government Executive, “The situation existed so briefly that it was already fixed when it came to Sen. Grassley’s attention, so a letter after the fact was unnecessary.”

The House members asked for a response by Feb. 6.

The president does have the authority to fire IGs—Ronald Reagan forced out all 15 who were in place in 1981, just three years after their jobs were created under the 1979 Inspector General Act. President George W. Bush also made some high-profile removals of IGs early in his presidency. Such authority, the two Democrats  argued, “should be used rarely, judiciously, and only for cause—never for partisan reasons.”

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency did not respond to requests for comment.

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