- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Forty-seven federal inspectors general wrote a letter to Congress Tuesday complaining about specific cases where some federal agencies such as the Peace Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency refused to hand over documents critical to their independent oversight.

“Each of us strongly supports the principle that an Inspector General must have complete, unfiltered, and timely access to all information and materials available to the agency that relate to that Inspector General’s oversight activities, without unreasonable administrative burdens,” said the letter, which was addressed to the Chairman and ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee.

“We have learned that the Inspectors General for the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency (in his role as Inspector General for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board) and the Department of Justice have recently faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas,” the letter said. “These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every Inspector General and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.”

This year both the Inspector General at the Peace Corps and within the Department of Justice have complained their agency’s opaque interpretation of the IG Act is limiting their access to the materials they need to conduct their job.

Michael Horowitz, the IG at the Department of Justice, has testified numerous times that his agency’s independence is threatened because he has to ask Attorney General Eric Holder’s permission to be granted information for some of his investigations — which at times have included Mr. Holder himself, as was the case with the Fast and the Furious gun-running scandal.

Kathy Buller, the Peace Corps IG, testified to Congress in January that her agency is refusing to hand over information related to sexual assault investigations, which she’s legislatively tasked with overseeing. And at the EPA, attorney-client privilege was invoked to get around the IG’s information request.

“This is an administration that pledged to be the most transparent in history. Yet, these non-partisan, independent agency watchdogs say they are getting stonewalled. How are the watchdogs supposed to be able to do their jobs without agency cooperation?” Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement responding to the IG letter. “Inspectors general exist to improve agencies and get the most bang for every tax dollar. This letter underscores the need for congressional review and possibly legislative action.”