The Obama administration needs to learn that inspectors general aren’t the enemy. Last year, Congress looked into five reports of possible political interference with the work of these quasi-independent watchdogs, and now a sixth IG is complaining about political strong-arm tactics.
Patrick McFarland is the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management. On Jan. 11, he wrote to Rep. Stephen Lynch, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the relevant subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, complaining about a “not so veiled threat” from an administration official. Specifically, he wrote that one of his top assistants was told that an official from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget had said OMB would “make life miserable” for the IG if the IG dared complain that the budget would hobble his investigative efforts.
According to Mr. McFarland, the message “represents an attempt to thwart an authority provided to us by the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 and that creates a risk of compromising our operational independence.” The IG quickly referred the issue to White House Counsel Robert Bauer “for his immediate attention.”
To their credit, Mr. Lynch and full committee chairman Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat, quickly wrote letters to OMB and to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to demand investigations of Mr. McFarland’s complaints and “to determine whether any similar threats have been communicated” to other inspectors general.
This is important. Inspectors general were created and given large measures of independence to ferret out government waste and corruption without fear of retaliation. Back when Barack Obama was a senator feigning interest in open government, he was one of the main co-sponsors of the reform act of 2008. Yet since Mr. Obama became president, IGs at the International Trade Commission, the Library of Congress, Amtrak and the Troubled Asset Relief Program all have complained in one way or another that they were not being allowed to do their jobs properly. The Obama administration’s firing of Gerald Walpin, inspector general for the Corporation for Community and National Service, has become a full-blown scandal.
Congress is right to investigate this troubling administration pattern. Honest government hangs in the balance. The alternative is a free hand for executive thuggery.