One recent major impediment for Federal IGs completing their jobs is an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel stating that IGs can’t access information that’s protected by privacy laws. This includes grand jury testimony, credit information, wiretap information, and other similar sensitive data.
This has only been corrected for a handful of agencies. According to FCO, 66 federal Inspector Generals can still be blocked from accessing this data for the agency, potentially allowing them to hide behind these ‘sensitive data’ provisions when being investigated. The IG community has been trying to correct this through a congressional bill called the IG empowerment act since the original Office of Legal Counsel ruling in 2015.
It’s unlikely to be passed this year either, unfortunately. The US House passed the IG Empowerment Act in June, and a Senate version of the bill has been reported out of committee but no action has been taken on the bill since May. With only five days left on the calendar, it’s unlikely to be approved before adjournment.
Even so, the issue won’t be dropped by the IG community. “I think the IG Empowerment Act was certainly something that’s on the mind of the community,” David Zavada (who conducted a recent survey of IGs in conjunction with the Association of Government Accountants) said in a recent interview with Federal News Radio. “I think it’s important to reassure IGs and to really refresh their authority in some areas.”
When the new administration and the 115th Congress is seated in January, they can expect to face the same questions from the IG community they’ve faced for the past two years: when will you clarify that, when the law says IGs have access to all information within the agency it oversees, all means all?