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By Kathryn Watson
If President Donald Trump wants to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government like he says, one thing he can do immediately is fill vacant inspector general (IG) offices, according to one government accountability expert.
Eleven agencies have no permanent IG — the independent watchdog responsible for investigating corruption, mismanagement and unnecessary spending — and some of those positions have been vacant under former President Barack Obama for years.
“We think they (IGs) play an extremely important role in preventing waste, fraud and abuse, so we are still wrapping our head around why it takes so long to fill these positions,” Nick Pacifico, program manager at nonpartisan watchdog Project on Government Accountability (POGO), told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Department of State lacked a permanent IG for Hillary Clinton’s entire tenure as secretary of state. Some believe that’s why her use of a private email server to conduct government business went unnoticed.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) has operated without a permanent IG the longest — since Feb. 23, 2009, according to POGO.
With the thousands of appointments a new president has to make, filling IG vacancies isn’t usually a priority. The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) thinks it should be.
“Although the IG has the potential to significantly improve the performance of each agency, the IG may not be among the first positions that transition teams or the new administration act to fill when taking office,” CIGIE’s handbook on presidential transitions says. “However, it is important for the new administration to focus on filling vacant IG positions expeditiously.
“In the past, IG positions have often remained vacant for significant periods of time, generating concern and criticism. Although acting IGs have performed admirably in many cases, a confirmed IG is in a much better position to effectively fulfill the responsibilities of the office.”
Permanent IGs have more independence than acting IGs, and thus, are in a better position to defy their agencies when necessary, Pacifico explained.
Obama isn’t the only reason for all those vacancies. In many of the current IG vacancy cases, the Senate didn’t confirm Obama’s choices. The Senate never confirmed Obama’s June 2015 pick for DOI IG, Mary Kendall. Kendall’s critics in the Senate said she politicized investigations as DOI’s acting IG.
(RELATED: ‘Playing Games’: Obama Backs Nominee For Essential Spot He Left Empty For Six Years)
IGs don’t have terms, and historically, stay on through presidential transitions.
Pacifico said IGs become increasingly important whenever one party controls the White House, Senate and House.
“IGs are nonpartisan, and it becomes more important when aspects of government are very partisan,” Pacifico told TheDCNF.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s pick to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), emphasized the vital role of IGs in his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He said he looks forward to “reinvigorating” IG offices and “giving them the respect and credibility that they need.”
“Congress needs to have those inspectors general, the president needs to have those inspectors general, doing their job and helping us collect information so that we can make good decisions about how to fix and reform various institutions,” Mulvaney said.