Trump’s purge of inspectors general, explained

“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.”