Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, the Senator from Missouri, my friend, has given a very good explanation of this bill. Before I give my version of it, which will be similar to hers, I wish to compliment her because she is in a position of jurisdiction over IGs. She has done a very good job of strengthening these positions in other legislation she has sponsored. So I feel very good to be in the company of the Senator from Missouri on this amendment.
Our amendment would correct serious problems in section 989B of the Dodd-Lincoln substitute. This section of the bill would change the way that five inspectors general are hired and fired.
Currently, these five inspectors general are hired and fired by the agency that they oversee, but section 989B would put the President in charge of hiring and firing them. This provision was included because the sponsors of the legislation believe that making inspectors general Presidentially appointed will make them more independent.
However, rather than strengthening oversight over our financial institutions with more independent watchdogs, section 989B could introduce politics into what have traditionally been career, nonpolitical positions.
Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, there are two types of inspectors general, presidentially appointed IGs and designated Federal entity IGs, DFE IGs. Both types of inspectors general are tasked with hunting down waste, fraud, and abuse at Federal agencies. However, there are some major differences in how they are appointed and removed from office and how they operate.
DFE IGs are appointed by the agency rather than the President. The Inspector General Act created 30 of them, not just the 5 addressed in this bill. The agency-appointed IGs typically run smaller offices than Presidential appointees, often with just a handful of employees. Almost all of them oversee agencies that are headed by a bipartisan board or commission.
By contrast, Presidentially appointed IG's generally run much larger offices and employ dozens or hundreds of employees to oversee Departments such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and so on. They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They are subject to removal at any time by the President. However, the President must provide Congress 30 days notice and a written list of reasons for dismissing the inspector general.
Agency-appointed IGs have a similar protection requiring that the agency notify Congress in advance of the reasons for any removal.
The sponsors of section 989B argue that because agency-appointed IGs are hired and fired by the agency they oversee, they might be tempted to pull their punches more than someone who could only be fired by the President. I actually agree that this is a potential problem. However, the solution in this bill misses the mark.
Unfortunately, section 989B only attempts to address this independence issue at five of the 30 agency-appointed IGs. In my view, this fix is too narrow. In addition, it attempts to ensure independence by replacing these five IGs with Presidential appointees.
There is no evidence that Presidential appointees will be more independent than their predecessors. There have been problems in the past with Presidential appointees being too cozy with the agency they are supposed to oversee or pulling punches for political reasons.
There is strong evidence that agency-appointed IGs can be fiercely independent despite the possibility of being removed by the agency head. It all depends on the quality of the appointment.
For example, David Kotz, the Securities Exchange Commission inspector general has exposed the SEC's failures in the Madoff and Stanford cases, and is currently looking into the timing of the government suit against Goldman Sachs. Similarly, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation's, PBGC, inspector general aggressively investigated the former head of the agency, Charles Millard, and has challenged the acting director about providing inaccurate information to Congress. Despite the potential risks of being replaced, these IGs have not been timid about challenging their agencies to improve.
Because of the way section 989B is currently drafted, these IGs could be summarily dismissed soon after the bill is signed into law. Under this provision, each IG could continue to serve but only until the President nominates a replacement. Once the President makes a nomination, the IGs would no longer enjoy legal protections for their independence and would become instant lame ducks. In fact, SEC Inspector General Kotz recently stated that if this provision becomes law it will effectively end some of the ongoing investigations his office has at the SEC.
There is a practical problem with Presidential appointments as well. This administration does not have a great track record in filling vacancies in an expeditious manner. Having no watchdog on duty is a concern for all Americans.
There are over a dozen IG positions where there is a vacancy, an acting, or an interim IG. The administration waited 18 months to appoint an IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. That is 18 months without strong leadership able to direct audits, investigations or examinations of agency policy. That's 18 months without a cop on the beat. Maybe that is the way the administration likes it. I am sure the bureaucrats at these agencies would enjoy life more without an inspector general asking questions. Imagine if the SEC were not held accountable for their failures in stopping the Madoff or Sanford Ponzi schemes.
This bill would create five lame ducks in the IG community and the potential for more extended vacancies unless we fix it. There would be far less oversight during the lengthy transition process under the current bill with no guarantee of vigorous oversight by the new appointees. Essentially, this provision could politicize the positions that [Page: S3877] have historically been filled by career public servants.
I know the goal of this provision is to enhance IG independence, but there are better ways to protect the independence of these IGs than by replacing them with Presidential appointees.
We should do it more effectively and make sure that all agency-appointed IGs are more independent, not just the five singled out in the bill. That is why I am offering this amendment. The Grassley-McCaskill amendment simply applies the same sort of protections that have worked for one of the 30 agency appointed IGs to the other 29 agency-appointed IGs. The Postal Service inspector general enjoys enhanced protections and my amendment would extend those protections more broadly.
Our amendment would strike section 989B of the bill and replace it with a system that will bring true reform, independence, and accountability.
It would make the IGs report to the entire bipartisan board or commission heading their agency, and the IG could only be removed for cause by a 2/3 majority vote of the bipartisan board or commission. This would ensure that should an agency make a political attempt to remove an IG, there would be the possibility of dissent among the board or commission members.
These are serious protections from political interference currently enjoyed by the Postal Service IG, but it also allows an IG to be held accountable when necessary. These same provisions have worked for the Postal Service inspector general and it is time to extend them to all the agency-appointed IGs.
It also holds IG's accountable by requiring that they disclose the results of all their peer reviews in the semi-annual reports to Congress, thereby making them public.
This amendment strikes the right balance, improving both independence and accountability of all DFE-IGs. In fact, even the White House has gone on the record telling the Center for Public Integrity, ``the administration does not support in any way politicizing the function of the Inspector General and we have not proposed these changes'' in the Dodd-Lincoln substitute.
The amendment is supported by the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight and has bipartisan support from members on the committee with jurisdiction over the IG Act. This important amendment deserves an up-or-down vote at the appropriate time.
In summary, our amendment would correct serious problems in section 989B of the Dodd-Lincoln substitute. This section of the bill would change the way that five inspectors general are hired and fired. Currently, these five inspectors general are hired and fired by the agency they oversee, but this section of the bill would put the President in charge of hiring and firing them. This provision was included because sponsors of the legislation believed that making inspectors general presidentially appointed would make them more independent.
However, rather than strengthening oversight over our financial institutions with more independent watchdogs, this section could introduce politics into what has traditionally been career, nonpolitical positions. It is important to ensure that this bill does not then hurt the oversight of these designated Federal regulatory agencies by the inspectors general.
I think our amendment corrects the potential to create long-term vacancies at five important regulatory agencies that, quite frankly, cannot afford to have these sorts of vacancies and not have the proper oversight.
The amendment provides true transparency, and with transparency you get accountability among inspectors general. We are going to bring about real independence--or maybe it would be better for me to say maintain the independence these folks have shown already.
We should take steps to make all agency-appointed IGs more independent, not just the five addressed in the bill. These five should not be singled out. The amendment before us makes the IGs report to the entire bipartisan board or commission heading their agency and requires a two-thirds vote to remove an inspector general.
I will not speak about the peer review Senator McCaskill has already spoken about. But I think it is important we have semiannual reports to Congress on the effectiveness of the people in their various positions. By reporting to the entire bipartisan board or commission rather than just the chairs, these IGs will be further insulated from political influence. As a consequence, they will be more independent. So in the final analysis, I think this brings the right balance to the independence of it.
As I said, this amendment is supported by the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight. Because it comes from another committee of jurisdiction, I am glad that through Senator McCaskill and other people on the committee, we have bipartisan support from the committee of jurisdiction.
This is an important amendment and deserves an up-or-down vote at the appropriate time.
I yield the floor.