Inspectors general (IGs) play a crucial role in deterring abuse of office and power for both political appointees and career bureaucrats in federal agencies. They are essential to meaningful transparency and maintaining high ethical standards.
Yet, loopholes in our system allow presidents to overreach and fire IGs for political or personal reasons. Those loopholes undermine the public’s ability to hold government officials accountable.
This is not an abstract concern. During President Trump’s last year in office, he removed four IGs without providing an explanation to Congress. President Obama also removed an IG without a clear explanation.
It is Congress’ job to ensure IGs can execute and complete independent investigations without interference. But, Congress is not providing the necessary oversight to ensure IGs are only removed for permissible reasons.
Under the current Inspector General Act of 1978, Congress must be notified 30 days before an IG is removed. This requirement, however, has been disregarded by both Republican and Democratic administrations that have failed to provide adequate notice — in some cases placing IGs on administrative leave, in others appointing acting IGs during the notice period, and also designating political appointees to serve as acting IGs. These actions effectively remove the IG and circumvent the law. These loopholes need to be closed.
Issue One supports the IG Independence and Empowerment Act (H.R. 2662) to make clear Congress’ important role in maintaining Inspector General independence. This bipartisan bill was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and passed by the House of Representatives. An amended version — which was unanimously and favorably reported out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) Committee — also contains key provisions from the Securing Inspector General Independence (SIGI) Act of 2021 (S. 587), which Issue One has also endorsed. If passed as amended, this bill would:
- Enhance the current presidential notification requirement for removing an inspector general
- Places reasonable limits on who can serve as acting IG in the case of a vacancy, ensuring that acting IGs are qualified and free from conflict
- Grants IGs the subpoena power necessary to fully investigate and prevent abuses of power
Additional proposals exist in the House. Issue One urges Congress to consider them along with the SIGI ACT, and expeditiously pass the strongest IG bill possible.
Learn more about our executive branch ethics work.