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IG Vacancies Persist Under Biden Administration, Despite One Recent Confirmation

The president has four other nominees waiting, as observers continue to stress the need to have permanent leaders to oversee the distribution of billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief. 

A little over five months into the Biden administration, the Senate has confirmed one of the five individuals the president has nominated to serve in the dozen-plus inspector general vacancies across the federal government. Experts say having permanent leaders in these positions is essential to effective oversight, especially as agencies are distributing billions of dollars in coronavirus relief. 

When Biden came into office in January, there were 14 IG vacancies (all except one required a presidential nomination) and since then two more positions have become vacant. This leaves 15 IG vacancies, 12 of which require a presidential nomination. 

There will soon be another acting IG as the Federal Housing Finance Agency inspector general told colleagues on Tuesday she plans to step down next month. Laura Wertheimer’s announcement followed investigations from CIGIE’s integrity committee and a pair of Republican senators that found a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority, but she did not cite that as the reason for her departure. 

So far Biden has nominated individuals to be the IGs for the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments; Intelligence Community; and CIA. The CIA IG was confirmed on June 24, ending the second longest vacancy (the position was held by an acting official since May 31, 2015). 

Additionally, Jason Miller was confirmed to be the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget on April 27, which made him the de-facto executive chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. 

In March, Government Executive reported that Biden hadn’t tapped any IG nominees yet and experts hoped he would in order to ensure effective operations, especially as agencies are distributing billions of dollars in pandemic relief. Not having permanent IGs has been a long-term issue and some of the vacancies date back to the Obama administration. 

“It is dismaying, to say the least, that vacancies for inspectors general continue to persist,” said Nan Swift, resident fellow in the governance program at the R Street Institute, when asked for comment on the current status. “Without IGs in place, both Congress and the administration will be operating with significant blind spots and some oversight functions may shift to the already overworked and underfunded Government Accountability Office.”

She added that the Senate and Biden administration “have had ample time to address this growing problem” and “further delays will compound the problems created by lack of accountability at a time when many agencies are awash in more funds and programs than they typically administer, due to COVID-19 related emergency spending.”

Liz Hempowicz, public policy director at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, told Government Executive “empowered, independent inspectors general are critical in the fights to address government waste and expose when the powers of government are being abused against the people” and also raised the alarm about the long-term vacancies.

“It's not clear to me whether it's a lack of prioritization on the part of the Biden administration or if it's been difficult to attract quality individuals after former President Trump demonstrated how easily a president can remove an inspector general to impede independent oversight. But either way, these vacancies should concern the public,” she said.  

The White House did not respond for comment by the time of this article’s publication. 

In a related matter, the House on Tuesday voted 221-182, largely along party lines, to pass the IG Independence and Empowerment Act to better protect IGs from political retaliation and help them better perform investigations, addressing many issues raised during the Trump administration. One of the provisions is that only current IGs or senior IG staff can serve as acting IGs. Another would increase the transparency of CIGIE’s integrity committee, which was from a bill previously introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations.  

Embattled Federal Housing Finance Agency IG “Laura Wertheimer is the poster child for why the House will pass my Integrity Committee Reform Act today,” Connolly said on Tuesday before the vote. “We must hold inspectors general to the highest standards, and ensure transparency and ethics are at the forefront of every audit and investigation.” 

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said, however, that the “bill is all about empowering partisan inspectors general to subpoena former Trump administration officials for a show and a few headlines.”