Inspectors general on Wednesday called for stronger legal protections against reprisals, term limits and enhanced personnel flexibilities.
The president and agency heads should only be allowed to fire inspectors for violating established ground rules, three representatives of the IG community said at a congressional hearing. IGs should serve for fixed terms of nine years, the witnesses argued, and should be allowed to depart from Title 5 of the United States Code, the law governing personnel management at most executive branch agencies.
Inspectors general cannot be expected to complete rigorous, independent and objective investigations if they fear they will face retaliation for uncovering waste, fraud and abuse at federal agencies, the witnesses said. Currently, presidents and agency heads can fire IGs after notifying Congress. There is no list of defensible causes for removal.
"No inspector general should have to work in that atmosphere and climate," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.
Term limits would enhance job security, provide continuity during changes in administration and "serve to improve IG operations by facilitating long-range planning and increasing institutional memory," according to the written testimony of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. IG Gaston Gianni Jr., Corporation for National and Community Service IG J. Russell George, and Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System IG Barry Snyder.
The inspectors also advocated expansion of personnel flexibilities to help IG offices "better compete with the private sector in attracting high-quality candidates, especially for positions requiring technical expertise." The ability to design merit-based pay systems, offer recruitment and retention bonuses and extend probationary periods for new employees would help, the witnesses said.
A bill (H.R. 3457) introduced by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., last fall addresses several items on the IGs' wish list, but differs slightly in details. The legislation spells out five legitimate reasons for removing inspectors general before the end of a seven-year term.
Members of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Efficiency and Financial Management, eager to advance Cooper's legislation, invited Gianni, George and Snyder to share the IG community's recommendations for modifying the measure.
The witnesses said they generally support the bill, but would change some details. For example, they pushed for a nine-year term, rather than seven years, to make sure IGs "span administrations."
The IGs called on lawmakers to clarify the five causes for removal, listed as: permanent disability, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance, and conviction of a felony or conduct involving "moral turpitude." Some of these categories, the IGs argued -- especially "inefficiency" -- are vague.
The inspectors general had a few reservations with the personnel provision in Cooper's bill as well. Under the proposal, IG offices could create personnel management systems under Title 5. But some IG offices, including those at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, already are exempt from the law governing executive branch personnel systems and should not have to relinquish that flexibility, the witnesses said.
Cooper said Wednesday that he hopes to work out the differences and move the bill along as quickly as possible. The legislation is bipartisan, he noted, with Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., as a co-sponsor. All lawmakers should support measures that encourage objective, independent IG investigations, he said.
"This is about good government," said Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., the subcommittee chairman.
But the measure is likely to stir up some controversy, the witnesses said, emphasizing that they appeared at the hearing to represent the views of the inspector general community, rather than the opinions of the Executive Council on Integrity and Efficiency and President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, where they hold leadership positions. The PCIE is made up of presidentially appointed IGs, and the ECIE represents agency head-appointed IGs.
The Bush administration has not taken an official position on Cooper's legislation, said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Chad Kolton.
But some components of the legislation, including the list of causes for removal, are likely to be "sensitive," Gianni said. Administrations are naturally "leery" of relinquishing authority, he explained: "I don't look for any administration to come forward and suggest strengthening the powers of the inspectors general."
WWW.Govexec.com July 15, 2004
Homeland Security makes progress on management mandates
By Chris Strohm
The Homeland Security Department has implemented 40 key recommendations from the Government Accountability Office and is working on more than five dozen others, according to a new report released Friday.
GAO reviewed progress made on 104 key homeland security recommendations, some dating back to well before DHS was formed. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, ranking member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, asked GAO for the study.
"While some progress has been made, many responsibilities given to the new department by Congress have yet to be completed," Turner said. "The GAO report gives us an accurate picture of where the department is and how far it needs to go to meet the challenges of protecting our country from a terrorist attack."
Of the 104 recommendations, 38 were made prior to the official formation of the department in March 2003. Of those, 20 have been fully implemented. Of the other 66 recommendations, another 20 have been completed.
In some cases, multiple recommendations dealt with one program. For example, seven of the recommendations DHS is addressing relate to the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System II, which the department announced Thursday is being redesigned.
Sixty recommendations fall under the responsibility of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. To date, that directorate has implemented 27 of the recommendations.
GAO noted that DHS faces funding challenges to implement 24 outstanding recommendations.
The report says that recommendations not yet implemented have left potential vulnerabilities.
"Effective implementation of the remaining 63 key recommendations could also help to strengthen mission effectiveness," GAO stated. "For example, effective implementation of the remaining 33 recommendations related to the BTS directorate could result in reducing the nation's current security vulnerabilities in such activities as passenger screening, border security and ports of entry."
The Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate has yet to fully act on any of its 12 pending recommendations. Turner said the inaction "means that significant security issues remain, such as a lack of prioritizing and coordinating critical infrastructure protection activities and continued vulnerabilities at chemical facilities."
Recommendations that were completed have shown results. For example, information available for making decisions related to immigrants has become more timely and accurate, emergency response efforts and planning efforts have been improved, unauthorized access to pathogens has been reduced, and the management of DHS' entry-exit system has been improved.
DHS Chief Financial Officer Andrew Maner said the department is working to close the outstanding recommendations. He noted that several relate to entities that no longer exist or units that were partially integrated into DHS.
GAO said it considered the validity and applicability of all key recommendations yet to be implemented in light of DHS' mission, and concluded that all recommendations are still valid. July 16, 2004
since the inception of the 401(k)-style federal retirement savings plan federal workers can adjust their retirement contributions of their Thrift Savings Plan . Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Matching contributions from their agencies. Agencies match employee contributions dollar-for-dollar on the first 3 percent of salary employees contribute each pay period and 50 cents on the dollar for the next 2 percent of pay.
The Senate bill, known as the Thrift Savings Plan Open Elections Act of 2004, has been endorsed by the Employee Thrift Advisory Council, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, the Federal Managers Association, and the Senior Executives Association.
The House Government Reform Committee proposed a more expansive version of the open seasons bill, which would have eliminated restrictions on government matching, but lawmakers eventually scrapped that version and are expected to go along with the Senate legislation.
But some components of the legislation, including the list of causes for removal, are likely to be "sensitive," Gianni said. Administrations are naturally "leery" of relinquishing authority, he explained: "I don't look for any administration to come forward and suggest strengthening the powers of the inspectors general." July 15, 2004
Watchdog group questions report on information quality
By Amelia Gruber
A government watchdog group on Monday called for an independent assessment of whether rules meant to enhance the accuracy of information that federal agencies share with the public are too burdensome.
The rules, published by the Office of Management and Budget to implement part of a fiscal 2001 appropriations package known as the Information Quality Act, require agencies to regularly report on the number of requests for corrections to public information, and steps taken to address the complaints. Administration officials published a compilation of agencies' fiscal 2003 reports along with an evaluation of progress implementing the law.
But according to OMB Watch, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, the administration's analysis of the fiscal 2003 reports is flawed, bringing into question OMB's ability to assess the impact of the law. The group released a point-by-point critique of OMB's report and claimed that the administration would "fail standards established under [its] own information quality guidelines."
A government watchdog group on Monday called for an independent assessment of whether rules meant to improve the accuracy of information that federal agencies share with the public are too burdensome.
But according to OMB Watch, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit organization, the administration's analysis of the fiscal 2003 reports is flawed, bringing into question OMB's ability to assess the impact of the law. The group released a point-by-point critique of OMB's report and claimed that the administration would "fail standards established under [its] own information quality guidelines."
The OMB report is rife with inaccuracies and omits information critical to understanding the law's impact on agencies, the watchdog group argued. "Because OMB authored the Information Quality Act guidance for agencies and oversees the program, it is hard to determine if OMB is fairly evaluating [the act's] implementation," said Sean Moulton and Cheryl Gregory, who wrote the OMB Watch critique.
In response, an OMB official who requested anonymity said the advocacy group's allegations are unfounded. The critique "does not present any new data or analysis about the information quality law. It simply provides an 'OMB Watch' spin on the hard data gathered by OMB."
The OMB report addresses eight alleged misperceptions about the Information Quality Act, that: agencies have been "inundated" with requests for corrections; only industry groups have requested corrections; the law has slowed the regulatory process; the act has made agencies more cautious in releasing information; procedures for asking agencies to reconsider correction requests are unnecessary; the law is designed "primarily" for information used to set federal rules; the act is only designed to handle corrections of numerical data, and academic institutions are regulated by the law.
OMB Watch said the administration attempted to assuage these concerns using faulty information. For instance, White House officials claimed that agencies only received 35 challenges in fiscal 2003, when in fact they received at least 98, OMB Watch said. The group based its evaluation on an analysis of the reports provided by agencies, available in the appendix to the OMB assessment.
But the watchdog group inflated the statistics by including "requests for minor corrections that would have been made of agencies prior to the law, e.g., corrections of names on agency Web sites," the OMB official said. "Thirty-five is a better estimate of the number of scientifically substantive requests triggered by the new law."
Administration officials also reported that the information corrections process had been "used by virtually all segments of society," a claim that is technically accurate but leaves out the important fact that industry groups submitted 72 percent of the requests for corrections, according to OMB Watch.
The advocacy group also criticized OMB for failing to adequately back up its claim that the law hasn't slowed down the regulatory process. Administration officials reported that no "engaged stakeholders" had commented on "any slowdown or delay of the regulatory process."
But the OMB Watch researchers said they'd found stakeholders complaining that the process of responding to corrections requests is cumbersome. For instance, a "former high-level career civil servant at the Environmental Protection Agency recently argued that this policy is being used to slow down the work at [the agency], directly affecting regulatory work."
In turn, the OMB official accused the advocacy group of presenting "no evidence" of any regulatory slowdown "causally related" to the Information Quality Act. "Indeed, they do not provide a single example of a good rule that was delayed due to an information quality complaint." The group further misconstrues the law as applying mainly to information affecting the federal rulemaking process, when in fact the "first year of experience demonstrates that most complaints concern information disseminated . . . outside [that process]," the official said.
The watchdog group is seeking a more thorough and accurate evaluation of the law's impact. "It is now time for congressional oversight, which needs to include a General Accounting Office [now called the Government Accountability Office] assessment of the law's implementation and congressional hearings on whether the law needs modification," OMB Watch stated.
The nonprofit requested a GAO "assessment of the law's implementation and congressional hearings on whether the law needs modification."
An independent evaluation will make sense, but "only after several years of experience," the OMB official said. "Many stakeholders and agencies are still learning the new procedures under this law."
July 12, 2004
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