By Bacho /

Bill Passed By House Would Expand Subpoena Power of Inspectors General

Long-sought authority would allow interviews with former employees, contractors.

The House on Wednesday advanced fulfillment of a longtime wish of the inspectors general community by passing a bill that would enhance the watchdogs’ subpoena power.

The IG Subpoena Authority Act  (H.R. 4917), which cleared by voice vote, was introduced last February by Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla. Russell noted that the watchdogs in fiscal 2016 identified $45 billion in waste, fraud and abuse, half of which came through their investigative activities.

“To conduct a thorough and complete investigation…, IGs need to be able to talk to the people involved,” Russell said on the floor. Currently, IG “reviews are limited by the IG's inability to compel contractors and former employees to cooperate. The IG Subpoena Authority Act gives inspectors general a much-needed tool to fulfill their investigative function under the [1978] Inspector General Act.”

Too many cases went cold, Russell said, because employees “left the agencies or refused to testify voluntarily.”

In permitting IGs to pursue interviews with former employees or contractors and “fill gaps in the evidentiary record,” he added, the bill would seek to prevent abuse by requiring IGs to obtain approval from a panel that will be made up of three other inspectors general. The review panel must approve or deny the subpoena request within 10 days.

Kathy Buller, the IG for the Peace Corps who chairs the Legislative Committee of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, welcomed the bill’s passage. “Testimonial subpoena authority would further improve the ability of IGs to detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse in federal operations,” she said in a statement.              

No direct Senate companion bill has been introduced.