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Push is on for IG subpoena power


Inspectors general exist to investigate waste, fraud and abuse at agencies across the federal government. Some have been around since the late 1700s—those for the military—while most IG offices across civilian agencies were founded in the 1970s and years since.  

Nowadays, IGs face a profound challenge—it’s an era in which persons asked to step up and answer questions for investigations are refusing to do so. 

And, in most cases, IGs do not currently have subpoena power to compel testimony. But a new article in E&E reports on pressure for that to change. 

Inspectors general, as the article details, have solicited information for investigations from higher-level and lower-level officials across multiple departments—including the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and others. Yet in numerous instances those summoned for help outright refused or otherwise avoided complying with IG requests. 

Often, the piece notes, the decision to take such a course was likely reinforced by the legal fact that once a political appointee or civil service employee has left federal employment, there is no requirement that they cooperate. E&E interviews, including with inspectors general themselves, highlighted this problem. 

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency—an executive branch office that works to improve IG function, as well as advocates for government reform, are pushing to obtain subpoena power to IGs. Bills to do this introduced in recent years have foundered on objections by some lawmakers that such powers could politicize the work of IGs. 

There is a pending bill—a version of which has been passed in the House—that would provide IGs subpoena power while guarding against politicization or other abuse by requiring a three-IG panel to sign off on the issuance of any subpoenas.

Reader comments

Tue, Aug 3, 2021

It won't stop it from being political completely, but it might make it happen less. I think so. They often have panels of judges in higher courts.

Tue, Jul 27, 2021

So, the 3 IG panel is supposed to insure the subpoena is not political when all three were appointed by the same party?

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