Op/Ed

Editorial: Congress must protect integrity of inspector generals

Among the long list of congressional fixes in the wake of the Trump presidency, rewriting the rules for inspector generals must be at the top of the list once Trump and his legions are defrocked. 
The role of inspector generals (IGs) is to combat waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. They do that by conducting audits and investigations in more than 70 federal agencies. The Inspector General Act of 1978 and its amendments of 1988 established the IGs as permanent, nonpartisan and independent offices serving to assist Congress in overseeing executive branch — and a few legislative branch — agencies. 
Under Trump’s presidency, however, he has disregarded their statutory oversight role by firing any IG who has produced unflattering reports on his administration. Normally, that wouldn’t happen because the Senate would object, but because the Republican-led Senate has cow-towed to Trump’s every whim, that system of checks and balances has been lost. 
If ever there was a question of which of the three branches of government needed to be restrained, and which needed the most power to do so, Trump has shown there should be next to no ability to limit Congressional oversight of the executive. Furthermore, that the tougher the rules are to ensure such oversight, the better off the country will be.
Apparently, when the oversight role of IGs were originally established, no one could imagine this country would devolve to a time in which the president (of either party) could so easily dismiss any IG who was critical of the president’s performance. Surely, the thinking went, Congress would stand up to the president if he or she ever were to threaten dismissal of an IG and demand that the truth of the investigation be debated. And surely the state of politics would be such that the American voters would reject any president who tried to cover-up fraud, abuse, bald-faced lies or anything that was so obviously against the public good. 
But then, 40-plus years ago they couldn’t have predicted a news station, Fox, would be a willing and effusive propaganda tool for the president. 
Today, the reality is that we’ve so lost our way as a democracy that statutes that once imposed reasonable oversight of presidential powers — and which stood strong for 50 years — have become meaningless. 
It’s not all Trump’s fault. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has allowed Trump to corrupt legislative oversight and distort executive privilege beyond any reasonable interpretation of the law. These matters and more will need to be redrawn and reinforced in the years to come with an eye on preventing a megalomaniacal president from ever again disregarding the oversight of the legislative branch. 
Two legislators, Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, have introduced legislation to that effect in the Inspector General Independence Act. The bill would protect inspector generals from politically motivated firings by establishing seven-year terms and limiting reasons for removal by the president. It’s not likely to pass in the current Senate as long as McConnell is its leader, or with Trump in office, but it’s a start for critical legislation that must be passed in the first months of a new president and Congress. 
If that doesn’t happen in 2020, either through Trump’s defeat or Democrats regaining control of the Senate and keeping the House, Americans should expect that corruption under Trump will run rampant over the next four years and the public’s ability to discern the truth from political lies will likely be lost. 
Angelo Lynn

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