With three appointments in June, President Barack Obama is closing the gap on major vacancies in the inspector general ranks. But high-profile watchdog vacancies still remain at the Interior, Labor and Homeland Security departments.
On Capitol Hill, the long wait to get permanent appointees into top IG posts was riling members of both parties. In June, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), called on the president to fill the permanent IG posts at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Additionally, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) promised to hold up all State Department confirmations until an IG was named for that agency.
Obama nominated Steve Linick, currently IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), for the State IG position on June 27. The post has been vacant for five years and the subject of increasing controversy because of the ongoing investigation into the government's response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
The president also nominated Deputy IG Michael Carroll to be permanent IG at USAID and Jon Rymer to be IG at the Defense Department. Rymer is currently IG at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and was interim IG at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A burgeoning scandal at DHS is ramping up pressure on Obama to name a permanent IG. Acting IG Charles Edwards allegedly gave his wife a job in violation of anti-nepotism rules, abused agency resources to attend graduate school classes in Florida, misused government vehicles, shared whistleblower information with agency officials, and a host of other violations. They are detailed in a scathing letter from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Edwards has until July 19 to respond to the allegations.
The challenges for acting IGs
According to former DOD IG Joseph Schmitz, acting IGs are at a disadvantage because they lack the independence and clear lines of communication that Senate-confirmed appointees have.
"A Senate-confirmed IG has six congressional committees to which he or she reports almost as if they are a board of directors," Schmitz told FCW. They are the authorizing committees, appropriations subcommittees, and government oversight committees in the House and the Senate.
"When you get a letter from the chairman and ranking member of a committee, it gets your attention," he said. "You pretty much have to respond."
Joe Newman, director of communications at the Project on Government Oversight, said the president can remove a Senate-confirmed IG, but he has to notify Congress before doing so. "It means they are going to be scrutinized," said Newman, whose organization has been vocal about the need to fill IG vacancies.
Schmitz, who wrote "The Inspector General Handbook," said acting or temporary IGs do not have the opportunity to develop relationships with members of Congress, which begins with the confirmation process. Acting IGs are further handicapped by their status as civil servants working inside the institutions they are supposed to monitor.
"You have to make judgment calls that might not be viewed favorably in your department, where your livelihood is at stake," Schmitz said.
"With an acting or temporary IG, you have someone who is basically working for the secretary" of his or her agency, Newman said. "That can be problematic."
Furthermore, deputies who are thrust into acting IG roles are not always suited to the top post. "You might have someone who is a great auditor but not someone who has the personality to be a lightning rod," he said. Schmitz agreed that the IG job isn't for everybody. "When you're an IG, you have to go in to the boss and say, 'This is a really ugly baby, and it's yours,'" he said. "That's what they teach you at Army IG school."
The nominations of Rymer at Defense and Linick at State should help those agencies, but also create new vacancies at FDIC and FHFA. In addition to the unfilled slots at Interior, DHS and Labor, there are IG vacancies at the Capitol Police, the Federal Maritime Commission and other agencies.
"We hope it doesn't go five years before the FDIC vacancy is filled," Newman said. "Hopefully, this is a sign that the administration is starting to give IGs priority."
(By Adam Mazmanian)