Byron York reports on a brewing controversy over a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill to create the Recovery Accountability and Transparency (RAT) Board. This entity would, among other things, have some degree of oversight over agency inspectors general and the Board's chair would be appointed by the President. According to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), this provision was "snuck in" and "strikes at the heart of the independence of inspectors general.”
What seems to have some upset is that the Board will have authority to request that "an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation." At first blush, this would seem to give the White House the ability to inhibit IGs from conducting independent oversight of agency functions. But after looking at the relevant provision, I am skeptical. Here's the text:
SECTION 1527: INDEPENDENCE OF INSPECTORS GENERALIt seems to me that this language adequately protects IG independence. While I suppose some IGs might find it to be a hassle to have to respond to a Board request, the facts that the IG's decision is "final" and that the IG's response to any RAT request will be widely distributed would suggest this provision is as likely to discourage White House meddling as it is to discourage effective IG oversight. Moreover, given that the Board will be dominated by IGs from various departments, I doubt the Board will be subject to much White House control. So while I am not sure why it was necessary to create the RAT Board in the first place, I don't see what all the fuss is about.
(a) Independent Authority- Nothing in this subtitle shall affect the independent authority of an inspector general to determine whether to conduct an audit or investigation of covered funds.
(b) Requests by Board- If the Board requests that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation and the inspector general rejects the request in whole or in part, the inspector general shall, not later than 30 days after rejecting the request, submit a report to the Board, the head of the applicable agency, and the congressional committees of jurisdiction, including the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and House of Representatives. The report shall state the reasons that the inspector general has rejected the request in whole or in part. The inspector general’s decision shall be final.
UPDATE: Government Executive reports on the story here. Apparently the language of this provision as initially proposed by the White House did threaten IG independence, before being neutered in Conference.