It has been almost 30 years since Congress, as part of its post-Watergate reforms, passed the Inspectors General Act of 1978 that created an office of Inspector General in 12 major departments and agencies to hold those agencies accountable to the public interest and report back both to the agency heads and Congress on their findings. The law was amended in 1988 to add an Inspector General to almost all executive agencies and departments.

The experiment has been a great success, hailed as a sort of consumer protector for the taxpayer deep within each agency. According to the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, last year alone IG audits resulted in $9.9 billion in potential savings and another $6.8 billion in savings when the results of civil and criminal investigations are added in.

Over the years, however, we have become aware of several instances where the independence of Inspectors General appears to be threatened. It is vital that Congress reiterate its strong support for the internal oversight IGs can provide and ensure they have the independence they need to carry out this vital, but often unpopular work. Unfortunately, we are also aware of instances in which the watchdog needs watching – that is, situations where the Inspector General has behaved improperly or failed to provide vigorous oversight.

The Inspector General Reform Act of 2007, S. 2324, attempts to address both problems. It includes an array of measures designed to strengthen the independence of the Inspectors General, such as requiring the Administration to notify Congress 30 days before attempting to remove or transfer an IG; requiring that all IGs be chosen on the basis of qualifications, without regard to political affiliation; and providing greater transparency of IG budget needs, including funds for training and Council activities, to help ensure the IG offices have the resources they need for their investigations. It also would strengthen IG accountability by beefing up the Integrity Committee that handles allegations against Inspectors General and their senior staff, and facilitating greater oversight of the Integrity Committee by Congress.