- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Trump administration has picked up the pace of nominating watchdogs to oversee federal agencies in recent months — selecting five inspector-general nominees for vacant positions.

President Trump announced his intention last week to nominate inspectors general for the Office of Personnel Management and the Social Security Administration, which have both been without permanent IGs since early 2016. That follows his prior nominations for three permanent inspector general positions — including for the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Export-Import Bank.

Advocates for government oversight say ensuring the nomination of inspectors general — whose job is to investigate waste, fraud and abuse within their respective agencies — is one of the best ways that Mr. Trump can fulfill his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.

At least 12 of 34 of inspectors general positions that require presidential nominations are currently vacant, according to the Project on Government Oversight, with four positions having become vacant since the start of the Trump administration. The longest running vacancy is the IG for the Department of Interior, which has been without a permanent leader since 2009.

While acting officials fill the roles until nominees are selected by the president and approved by Congress, Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said having acting management in place is akin to treading water to keep an office afloat.

“Acting IGs are just never as effective,” Ms. Brian said. “They keep their heads down because they don’t want to rock the boat or they don’t feel empowered to make the big decisions.”

Under the Obama administration, vacancies lingered in some critical inspector general offices. The State Department had no permanent inspector general for five years that included Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary — a lapse that has since raised questions about whether better oversight could have prevented the email issue that she has in part blamed for her 2016 presidential-election defeat.

During Mr. Obama’s first term in office, the number of days an inspector general office was left vacant averaged 379, according to POGO. That’s compared to an average of 280 days under George W. Bush, 453 days under Bill Clinton, 337 days under George H.W. Bush, and 224 days under Ronald Reagan, according to a 2009 study done by University of California, Berkeley, law professor Anne Joseph O’Connell.

Under the Trump administration, there have been some signs of forward momentum for the installation of permanent inspectors general.

The White House last week said the president intends to nominate Gail S. Ennis, a private lawyer who specializes in securities litigation and enforcement and financial institutions, as inspector general for the Social Security Administration. John Edward Dupuy, who has worked in the inspector general community since 1991 and most recently served as deputy IG for investigations as the Department of Energy, was selected as the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management.

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to hold a hearing on the nomination of Christopher Sharpley, who was nominated in September to be the inspector general of the CIA.

Mr. Sharpley had served as the acting inspector general of the CIA previously, but his time providing acting oversight has not been without controversy. It was under his management that the inspector general’s office mistakenly destroyed its only copy of a the Senate torture report on the agency’s history of brutal interrogation techniques.

Mark L. Greenblatt, who was nominated in September to provide oversight of the Export-Import Bank, has yet to have a hearing scheduled before a congressional committee.

Robert Storch, who was nominated in June as the NSA’s inspector general, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this summer in a nomination hearing. Mr. Storch was also nominated by Mr. Obama but never approved by Congress. His nomination is now up for consideration before the full Senate.

It’s not entirely surprising to see two different administration’s nominate the same person for an inspector general position.

Despite the fact that about half of the federal government’s 73 inspector general positions are nominated by the president, Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz has previously said the nature of their work demands that they not represent a partisan choice.

“We want to pick people who, no matter who is in the White House or our agencies, are going to do the taxpayers’ work,” said Mr. Horowitz, who chairs the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, in an interview last year. “We are not going to curry favor and go out of our way to be unfair to an administration either. Those nominees should be people that either party can support.”

POGO has sought to highlight the importance of inspector general work in government, estimating that every dollar spent invested in an inspector general office equates to $17 in taxpayer money saved.

Noting that Mr. Trump has talked about wanting to shrink the size of government, Ms. Brian said the oversight role the IGs provide is not one that any president should look to reduce.

“There could be a number of layers of management that may not be that important, but we believe its counter-productive to not have those jobs fully functional,” she said.

Current high-profile investigations are underway in numerous offices in which permanent inspectors general are in place. The Justice Department inspector general is reviewing the FBI’s handling of its investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, including former Director James B. Comey’s decision to publicly release information about the resolution of the case in July and his correspondence with Congress about renewing the probe just ahead of the presidential election.

Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general has opened a probe into agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travel and his use of private and military flights.

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