Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., called inspectors general "indispensable to Congress."

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., called inspectors general "indispensable to Congress." Andrew Harnik/AP file photo

House Panel Clears Bill to Pressure President on Inspector General Vacancies

Bipartisan approach would require notice to Congress on failure to nominate watchdogs.

A president slow to nominate candidates to fill inspector general vacancies would be required to explain why in a report to Congress under a bill approved on Tuesday morning by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The just-introduced 2019 Inspector General Protection Act (HR. 1847), sponsored by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Jody Hice, R-Ga., would require the president to file a report on vacancies that go on longer than 210 days. And it would require notification to Congress within 30 days whenever there is a “change in status” for an IG, such as being placed on administrative leave. (Current law already requires a president to notify Congress when an IG is being removed.)

The bipartisan bill, which was sent to the House floor by voice vote, “would improve inspector general independence,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the committee. He bemoaned the “disturbingly slow” nomination process “that’s been the norm through multiple administrations.”

Hice, calling IGs “indispensable to Congress,” cited Government Accountability Office research showing that vacancies occurred in 53 of the 64 major IG offices over the period of 2007-2016, “from as little as two weeks to as long as six years.” The Interior Department has not had a permanent watchdog since 2009, he added, and there are currently 12 IG vacancies.

An amendment by Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., intended to ensure that IG nominees are well qualified was withdrawn for further study.

A nonprofit that studies IGs welcomed advancement of the bill. "Federal inspectors general are essential to the functionality and accountability of federal agencies but it's crucial that Congress know when these entities lack permanent leadership,” Project on Government Oversight Policy Counsel Rebecca Jones said in an email to Government Executive. “This bill encourages any sitting president, regardless of their party, to take the nominations of inspectors general seriously.”

The bill’s requirement of notification to Congress when IGs are placed on “non-duty status” is a “best practice,” she added, in ensuring that Congress and the American taxpayers remain informed.