“Inspectors general are the watchdogs of government, tasked with keeping government officials and their agencies honest and with detecting fraud and abuse. It’s an important position given the money and power that flows through the organs of the state and the resulting opportunities for shenanigans, great and small. So, it’s more than a little worrying when one of the watchdogs is charged with criminal abuse of his position of trust in an effort to enrich himself.”
“The indictment of Charles K. Edwards, a former acting inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), came down as most of the country was distracted by the prospect of viral doom.”
“The indictment charges Charles K. Edwards, 59, of Sandy Spring, Maryland, and Murali Yamazula Venkata, 54, of Aldie, Virginia, with conspiracy to commit theft of government property and to defraud the United States, theft of government property, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment also charges Venkata with destruction of records.”
“Edwards, who resigned from his post at DHS in 2013, had his associates copy proprietary software as well as information about internal investigations and personal identifying information on DHS and Postal Service employees. His intent, says the Justice department, was to sell an improved version of the software back to the government.
According to an internal privacy notice at DHS, the stolen data included “names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, positions, grades, and duty stations” on 246,167 employees. The affected workers were offered 18 months of paid identity-protection services and urged to take other defensive steps, including freezing their credit.”
“Edwards also socialized with senior DHS officials—the people he was supposed to be watching—in an apparent effort to gather support for a permanent appointment to his position. He “would boast about his close relationship with members of DHS management, how frequently he met or dined with DHS management, and that his nomination was all but assured.””
“Linick isn’t the first inspector general Trump has lost confidence in recently. Since April, the president has fired two permanent IGs and replaced three acting inspectors general.
This has raised fears that the president — who has balked at pretty much any form of oversight during his tenure — is now targeting the watchdogs serving in his administration. Especially those who, in the course of doing their jobs, embarrass or implicate the president and his close associates in wrongdoing.
Trump does have the power to fire inspector generals, who, as executive branch appointees, serve at the pleasure of the president. But inspectors general are tasked with auditing and investigating that same executive branch — a job that could become increasingly challenging if these officials face retaliation for what they audit and investigate.
Congress and the American people rely on inspectors general, at least in part, to help the government run more efficiently and fairly. Inspectors general do not always succeed in this aim, but undermining the institution could be detrimental to oversight.”
“Congress purposely designed these roles to be slightly different from the average political appointee. “The original legislation built in a number of signals, if you will, that this person was supposed to be independent,” said Charles A. Johnson, professor emeritus of political science at Texas A&M University and co-author of US Inspectors General: Truth Tellers in Turbulent Times.
Inspectors general, Congress said, should be selected “without regard to political affiliation” and “solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability” in fields like financial management, law, and public administration.
In 2008, Congress reformed the IG law, adding provisions that would, ideally, better protect the independence of inspectors general. The law formalized a Council of the Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an organization of all IGs that examines best practices and promotes professional development.
This reform law also included a provision that said a president must give Congress 30 days’ notice if he intended to dismiss an IG, and that the president must provide a reason to congressional leaders.”
“Trump has fired two confirmed inspectors general: Linick, as discussed above, and Michael Atkinson, who was the inspector general for the intelligence community. Trump has replaced or moved to replace three other acting inspectors general from their jobs; however, since they were serving in an acting capacity, the personnel shuffle could be done without notifying Congress.
Each of these dismissals — and particularly those of Linick and Atkinson — stunk of retaliation, as the IGs had recently taken actions or instigated investigations that embarrassed or had the potential to embarrass Trump or his political allies. That is, historically, precisely what Congress has wanted to avoid: the politicization of these watchdog roles.”
“Acting IGs often don’t have the authority or stature of Senate-confirmed officials, and that can diminish the credibility of IGs or their work, even though the acting IGs in question, like Fine, may have stellar credentials and deep experience working in the IG community.
So generally, relying on acting IGs isn’t ideal. But the problem with Trump’s reshuffle is that his comments and behavior don’t exactly indicate he’s eager for and interested in robust oversight. He’s accused long-serving IGs of being Obama administration holdovers, though they are career officials. (And, even during the Obama administration, their job was the same: to investigate.)
Trump has bristled at oversight throughout his presidency, seeing it not as an opportunity for reform but as a personal attack. And though Congress will ultimately vet his picks for the permanent roles, Trump has removed some of these qualified acting IGs and replaced them with hand-picked and unvetted successors in the interim.”
“Trump’s purge of inspectors general is dangerous because it threatens to undermine the independence of the office and politicize the institution.
That could have a chilling effect on the work of inspectors general. Inspectors general might become reluctant to initiate studies or audits, and agency heads may ignore findings of mismanagement or worse uncovered by IGs, Newcomer told me. “The agency head may feel like, ‘Oh, we don’t really need to worry about implementing these recommendations because, worse comes to worst, we’ll just have the IG fired,’” she said.”
“Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — who’s historically been a big advocate for IGs — wrote a letter to the White House asking for more information about why Atkinson and Linick were dismissed. The White House Counsel responded that, basically, Trump had lost confidence in the two officials and that it was his prerogative to fire them if he wished.
Grassley said Tuesday that the White House’s response was insufficient. “If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is,” Grassley said. “Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”
Grassley also objected to the placement of political appointees in acting roles, which raises concerns about conflicts of interest.
But Grassley’s objections might not matter. Congress does have some tools here: They could investigate, they could hold hearings. Democrats are doing that, but they will probably have much more weight and meaning if they’re bipartisan affairs. And so far, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have been reluctant to push the president too hard. Expressions of concern have rarely motivated the president to change course.”
“The Trump administration’s dismantling of independent federal watchdogs continued late last Friday, as Trump removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was reportedly conducting at least two misconduct probes into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Politico also reported today that Linick had recently finished an investigation into a Pompeo aide and concluded she had likely failed to report allegations of workplace violence.
On Friday night Trump also replaced the acting inspector general at the Department of Transportation, who was investigating Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao—the wife of Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.)—for alleged favoritism in awarding contracts.
Friday’s moves follow a string of dismissals that congressional Democrats and government accountability groups say is a purge of the inspectors general system by the Trump administration. The president has then filled those watchdog positions with political allies.”
“In April, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. Atkinson’s referral of a whistleblower complaint to Congress launched the Ukraine investigation and eventual impeachment of Trump, and the firing was widely seen as retaliation.
Trump also replaced Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was supposed to oversee the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package passed by Congress.
Inspectors general are independent offices that investigate waste, fraud, and abuse at federal agencies. They regularly audit agencies’ compliance with mundane rules and record-keeping, as well as investigate whistleblower complaints about misconduct.
Their investigative powers give them access to records and officials that the public and reporters don’t have, and as such, they fill an important role as watchdogs within the federal government.”
“To do their job, inspectors general are supposed to be insulated from political pressure. They don’t report to agency heads, and although they’re appointed and can be fired by the president, the president must give Congress 30 days’ notice before any firing, along with reasons for the removal. (Trump subverted even this modest requirement in Atkinson’s case by placing him on immediate leave.)”
“But the Trump administration, despite the president’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” is hostile to any oversight and has no use for inspectors general except as toadies and rubber stamps. Trump said he fired Linick at the request of Pompeo, but so far the administration has not given any detailed explanation, except that the president “lost confidence” in him.
And congressional Republicans, once champions of oversight and accountability during President Barack Obama’s administration, have become mute or blasé on the subject.”
“If Congress wants to maintain any vestige of respectability—or even any indication that it’s still a functioning branch of government rather than the executive’s doormat—it needs to reassert its power to protect independent inspectors general, regardless of which political party holds the White House.”
“Inspectors general are typically seen as nonpolitical operatives and are tasked with an independent watchdog role, overseeing various facets of the government and checking for waste, fraud, and abuse. Trump has clashed with several of them recently as they produced documentation that he views as unflattering to his administration.
That includes Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, whom the president railed against after she released a report detailing COVID-19 testing delays and critical supply shortages at U.S. medical centers.
“Another Fake Dossier!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
Trump’s move against Glenn Fine follows the president’s Friday termination of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, who dealt with the whistleblower report that eventually resulted in Trump’s impeachment. The president did not name a successor.”