One of the most important traits of an IG office is its independence. It can be very difficult to provide oversight for an agency if they have the ability to retaliate by cutting an IG’s funding. But unfortunately, the relationship between an agency and its IG is often neither fully connected nor independent, but somewhere between the two. While an IG reports to Congress, for instance, they often share resources, even if it’s just a building. Even sharing a building is sometimes enough for agency employees to influence IG effectiveness – in one case, an IGs desktop computers were mysteriously delivered to a basement instead of the IG office, where they remained for weeks before they were discovered.
So what can IGs do to maintain independence? Here are a couple of tips:
Communicate regularly with your agency: Independence doesn’t mean minimizing contact. Most agency leaders don’t want graft anywhere in their agency, and they probably have a few wasteful processes they’d like to improve as well. Sharing your own priorities with agency leaders, and gaining an understanding of their own, will help the agency and IG office to work towards common goals whenever possible. And if you’ve worked to establish a relationship when you can be transparent with agency officials, it will lead to less animosity when case information is too sensitive to share with them throughout the investigation.
Be political when you need to be: The Louisiana Inspector General’s office has been attacked twice by the Louisiana legislature, with attempts to close the office. These attacks have forced the state’s Inspector General (and Association of Inspectors General President) Stephen Street to come to his agency’s defense, arguing for budget reinstatement during legislative hearings, in local media and through press releases. “It’s impossible to do this job right without angering those in political circles,” Street said during the most recent impasse. “That’s the whole reason the office was set up with strong protections to allow it to do the job without fear of political retribution.” Unfortunately, IG offices do periodically come under attack for doing their jobs too well – and need to solicit help from allies to protect their budgets and investigative powers.
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