The head investigator charged with overseeing the Department of Justice testified Tuesday that various government agencies have repeatedly stymied his investigation efforts, and have done so in direct violation of federal law.
Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General of the Department of Justice, was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on investigative access to government information.
“Since 2010 and 2011,” he said. “The FBI and some other Department components have not read Section 6 (a) of the IG Act as giving my Office access to all records in their possession and therefore have refused our requests for various types of Department records. As a result, a number of our reviews have been significantly impeded.”
“It’s deeply troubling that Department of Justice leadership has stonewalled the Inspector General’s investigations several times and only produced requested documents after officials concluded that it would help them,” lamented Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the committee’s chairman. “The Inspector General’s activities should not be dependent upon the whims of a particular administration. Efforts to restrict or delay an Inspector General’s access to key materials in turn deprive the American people and their elected representatives of timely oversight information with which to evaluate an agency’s performance.”
Inspectors general are independent investigative officers whose job is to ensure that government agencies are not violating the law or engaging in fraudulent behavior. In August of this year, nearly 50 inspectors general signed a letter to Congress alerting politicians to “the serious limitations on access to records that have recently impeded the work of Inspectors General at the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice.”
These officers “faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas,” the letter explained. “Limiting access in this manner is inconsistent with the IG Act [the 1978 law that created the inspector general offices], at odds with the independence of Inspectors General, and risks leaving the agencies insulated from scrutiny and unacceptably vulnerable to mismanagement and misconduct – the very problems that our offices were established to review and that the American people expect us to be able to address.”
During his testimony, Horowitz cited a number of examples of administrative obfuscation, including government actions that significantly delayed their 2012 report on the notorious “Fast and Furious” scandal, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives facilitated Mexican drug cartels purchasing hundreds of guns, and later losing track of them.
In each of these instances, Horowitz explained, “the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General granted us permission to access the records we sought… However, as I have publicly testified previously, I have several significant concerns with this process. First and foremost, this process is inconsistent with the clear mandate of Section 6(a) of the IG Act. The Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General should not have to order Department components to provide us with access to records that the Congress has already made it clear in the IG Act that we are entitled to review. Second, requiring the OIG to have to obtain the permission of Department leadership in order to review agency records compromises our independence.”
In other words, the administration is making the watchdog agencies jump through hoops to do their jobs, significantly delaying their findings, wasting taxpayer dollars, and compromising the oversight reports.
As the IGs’ original letter of complaint plainly states, “the IG Act is clear: no law restricting access to records applies to Inspectors General unless that law expressly so states, and that unrestricted access extends to all records available to the agency, regardless of location or form.”
“Our struggles to access information relevant to our reviews in a timely manner continue to cause delays to our work and consume resources,” Horowitz said. “They also have a substantial impact on the morale of the auditors, analysts, agents, and lawyers who work extraordinarily hard every day to do the difficult oversight work that is expected of them. … For the past 25 years, my Office has demonstrated that effective and independent oversight saves taxpayers money and improves the Department’s operations. Actions that limit, condition, or delay access to information have substantial consequences for our work and lead to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations.”
Other investigations hindered by the government included reviewing “whether Department officials violated the civil rights and civil liberties of individuals detained as material witnesses in national security cases in the wake ofthe September 11 terrorist attacks,” FBI use of wiretaps, and sexual assault within the Peace Corps.
“The issues facing the DOJ OIG, the EPA OIG, and the Peace Corps OIG are not unique,” the August complaint stated. “Other Inspectors General have, from time to time, faced similar obstacles to their work, whether on a claim that some other law or principle trumped the clear mandate of the IG Act or by the agency’s imposition of unnecessarily burdensome administrative conditions on access. Even when we are ultimately able to resolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities. This plainly is not what Congress intended when it passed the IG Act.”