Trump vowed to “drain the swamp,” here’s how
© Getty Images

A recurring theme presented throughout Presidential primary and election debates arose when President-elect Donald J. Trump noting multiple examples of a wasteful, unethical culture in Washington and a pledge to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse from our government.

Following the primary, when Trump was campaigning after multiple Wikileaks revelations of collusion between the media, special interests, the DNC and the Clinton campaign; Trump made a now famous pledge to “Drain the Swamp” of unethical practices in our nation’s capital. 

When hearing this, many American voters who took the plunge and voted for Trump are asking, just like they did with the budget, tax cuts, the construction of ‘the wall’ and the replacement of Obamacare;  “ok, how are these things going to be accomplished?” 

A great place for Trump’s transition team to look is in America’s unknown government watchdogs in the Inspector General community.

ADVERTISEMENT
While a great deal of Americans are skeptical as to the accomplishments of Trump’s many lofty campaign goals, some of us are aware that there are some “plug-and-play” elements that, if the Trump transition team thinks outside of the box; can be key components making campaign promises become realities. Shortly after the election, Trump mended fences with Speaker of the House of Representatives Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE, who drafted his “RyanCare” alternative to Obamacare before the 2012 election. 

This is a sign that Trump may be applying the sound business principle of “not reinventing the wheel” in working with Ryan to modify Obamacare with the economic principals in "Ryancare" to create a national healthcare plan that works for working Americans. 

So, in considering Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” in the federal government; what tools are currently at his disposal to accomplish this massive goal? The answer is in the unpopular, but essential government watchdogs that make up the Inspector General community, which currently exists in an oversight capacity in almost every federal agency.

While the role of the Inspector General dates back to General George Washington’s appointment of Prussian Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben the first Inspector General of the Continental Army during the revolutionary war; a law formalizing the roles and responsibilities of Inspectors General didn’t come until 1978. The Inspector General (IG) act of 1978 was enacted by President Jimmy Carter, creating statutory IGs in every agency to identify and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in government agencies.

The Reagan administration refined this act, creating an additional 30 IG agencies to provide a watchdog in almost every government operation. IGs are independent appointments, either presidentially or by boards, with an average of a five-year terms which are designed to overlap the administrations of their appointees. 

By law, they are nonpartisan and apolitical and cannot be hired or fired without legislative checks and balances, or at least 2/3rds vote of their oversight board. They combine both investigative and auditing capabilities, and unlike law enforcement agencies who merely investigate crimes for potential prosecution(s); IGs also identify wasteful or unethical practices and make corrective action plans to assure that a policy or procedure didn’t somehow contribute to waste, fraud, or abuse.

Inspectors General are effective, essential watchdogs in any governmental operation (to include state and local agencies); but their role also makes them extremely unpopular in political circles. An Inspector General works within a government agency, but by law does not take orders from that agency head. 

This helps them retain independence in their ability to identify issues at any level within that agency. However, this level of authority tends to scare those who may be part of a long-standing-process that may be identified as waste, fraud or abuse by an Inspector General. This unpopularity is conveyed in many attempts to limit (or completely eliminate) the budgets, independence, authority, and capabilities of Inspectors General.

Currently, a shocking 11 out 0f the 36 Inspectors General appointees in the federal government remain vacant or in an interim status, some for over a thousand days due to a failure for the white house to appoint and/or the senate to confirm a nominee.

This is largely due to the IG community languishing in obscurity, since they have to remain apolitical and impartial, they get no media attention. This obscurity hinders public knowledge that Inspectors General have been trying to “Drain the Swamp” for throughout their respective existence.

Examples of this is highlighted by the fact that the State Department Inspector General investigated the Clinton email scandal in April of 2015, before Congress’ hearings and the FBI was called to testify on its investigation. The Homeland Security Inspector General published numerous findings on inefficiency at the Transportation Security Administration years before record airport lines prompted media attention.  

After major corruption scandals in state and municipal governments, local Inspectors General have emerged as a sign of reform. A great litmus test on whether a politician in a jurisdiction is honest, however, comes when Inspectors General face opposition to their conducting their duties. In Louisiana, State Inspector General Stephen Street’s office normally brings cases in that over double the office’s budget in public dollars stolen or recovered, but had his budget eliminated by members of the state house in 2012 and again attempted in 2016. 

In Philadelphia, a city that has seen a disturbing amount of public officials ranging from Traffic Court Judges to a sitting Congressman convicted in the last couple of years; the City Council refuses to grant municipal Inspector General Amy Kurland the independent authority she needs to investigate elected officials and their agencies, despite her respected track record and background as a federal prosecutor. 

If Inspectors General are responsible for enforcing ethics and corruption, then what is to be said of a politician who actively works to hinder their abilities to investigate them? 

Both the federal inspector general community and the Association for Government Accountants have both written recommendations for the presidential transition, providing guidance for increasing government oversight in the next administration. 

The Association of Inspectors General includes IGs from federal, state, local, transit and NGO watchdogs is coincidentally operated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice; just a few blocks from the transition team’s headquarters at Trump Tower. The partnership between the Association of Inspectors General and John Jay College has created the nation’s first graduate degree track for Inspectors General and has trained government watchdogs throughout the world, from great domestic examples of changing corrupt culture in New Orleans, Boston and other cities to notoriously corrupt nations in Africa and Asia. 

If the Trump transition team coordinated with the Inspector General community, the administration could enter Washington with a better understanding of the state of independent government oversight in America. In doing so, the Trump administration could be the first Administration since Ronald Reagan who empowered and supported its collective watchdogs, used the supermajority on the hill to speed up confirmations, and truly “drain the swamp.”  

This way, the Trump administration could partner with nonpartisan experts in oversight and clean up Washington, as many of those who voted for him demanded he do.

Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Board at St.John’s University and the Peirce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter: @PublicSafetySME


 

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.