To the People

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama And Accountability? Not So Much

Given the fact that members of Congress had only ten hours to read the 1,000+ pages of the economic stimulus bill before it was voted on, it is not surprising that they missed a few things. Byron York highlighted one in an eye-opening story that ran earlier today in the DC Examiner:
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.

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When I inquired with the office of a Democratic senator, one who is a big fan of inspectors general, I was told the RAT Board was “something the Obama administration wanted included in this bill.” When I asked the White House, staffers told me they’d look into it. So for now, at least, there’s been no claim of paternity.

The RAT Board has all sorts of other things wrong with it. For one thing, it’s redundant; there is already a board through which inspectors general police themselves, created last year in the Inspectors General Reform Act. For another thing, it could complicate criminal investigations stemming from inspector general probes. And then there’s the question of what it has to do with stimulating the economy.

But none of that matters now. It’s the law.

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