It appears that transparency in the Obama Administration will be provided by smoke and mirrors. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is squawking about a provision in the stimulus bill that seems to limit the independence of the Inspectors General. Byron York at the DC Examiner and Government Executive have coverage; here is Byron York:
You’ve heard a lot about the astonishing spending in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, signed into law this week by President Barack Obama. But you probably haven’t heard about a provision in the bill that threatens to politicize the way allegations of fraud and corruption are investigated — or not investigated — throughout the federal government.
The provision, which attracted virtually no attention in the debate over the 1,073-page stimulus bill, creates something called the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — the RAT Board, as it’s known by the few insiders who are aware of it. The board would oversee the in-house watchdogs, known as inspectors general, whose job is to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing at various federal agencies, without fear of interference by political appointees or the White House.
In the name of accountability and transparency, Congress has given the RAT Board the authority to ask “that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation.” If the inspector general doesn’t want to follow the wishes of the RAT Board, he’ll have to write a report explaining his decision to the board, as well as to the head of his agency (from whom he is supposedly independent) and to Congress. In the end, a determined inspector general can probably get his way, but only after jumping through bureaucratic hoops that will inevitably make him hesitate to go forward.
Government Executive contacted some IGs:
Spokesmen for several IGs said it was too early to say if the final language in the stimulus bill would tie their hands, as Grassley has alleged. Some expressed concern that the hastily amended requirements for the board provide more questions than answers. A group of IGs whose agencies are slated to receive stimulus funds are expected to meet Thursday to review the stimulus language line by line. "The independence of IGs is sacrosanct, and anything that would have a chilling effect, real or perceived, is something to be concerned about," said J. Russell George, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.
Odd that Dick Cheney never thought of this. Oh, well - this looks like transparency and oversight we can believe in.