Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins blasted President Barack Obama’s administration on Wednesday for stymieing public watchdogs throughout the federal government.
“It is unacceptable that the Obama administration is hindering the efforts of inspectors general,” Collins said. “These independent watchdogs are indispensable in preventing waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars, and they are an invaluable resource for conducting congressional oversight.”
Collins’ statement follows a highly unusual Aug. 5 joint letter to some members of Congress — signed by 47 out of 78 federal inspectors generals — condemning the Obama administration for obstructing investigations.
According to a report in the Washington Post, the IGs accuse at least three federal agencies of limiting access to records, the Justice Department, the Peace Corps, and the Chemical Safety Board. The letter was sent to four lawmakers charged with government oversight roles: Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
The Justice Department has long stood accused of playing politics with and interfering in investigations. In April, Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the Justice Department, complained that DoJ was not providing him full access to documents required for his investigations.
Some of the instances of interference referenced in the letter are startling. From the Post: “In the Peace Corps example, the agency withheld records of sexual assaults against its volunteers… With the Chemical Safety Board, the agency argued that attorney-client privilege prevented it from providing access to certain documents related to a discrimination case..”
The inspectors generals, many of them nominated by President Obama, are tasked with serving as independent investigators to root out waste, fraud, abuse and corruption in government. According to the Inspector General Act of 1978, IGs are supposed to have unfettered, unfiltered and timely access to information they request.
Yet the administrations that promised to be the most transparent now finds itself taking criticism for its very own agents of transparency.
Collins, who is running for reelection this year against Democrat Shenna Bellows, said she is exploring measures Congress can take to ensure that inspectors general are allowed to do their jobs.
“I have worked very closely with the IGs to investigate fraud and abuse in federal programs,” she said. “Obstructing their important work prevents Congress from fulfilling our important oversight responsibilities.”