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Inspectors General reforms protect Ohio taxpayers

To the editor:

As the lead Republican negotiator on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman has ensured that this historic investment in infrastructure will be a central part of his legacy when he leaves Washington after this term.

But Portman should be working equally hard to ensure that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending has rigorous, apolitical oversight to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse from syphoning that money away from its intended purposes. That’s why Senator Portman’s efforts to strengthen our federal Inspectors General needs to be as bold as the infrastructure plan.

In 2020 alone, federal Inspectors General (IGs) helped identify nearly $53 billion in potential savings. That’s a return of $17 for every $1 of taxpayer dollar spent on IG operations. But despite creating obvious efficiencies and directly benefiting taxpayers, Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) across our government have been mired with gaps in authority, political attacks, and firings in recent years, harming their ability to effectively do their jobs.

Reform is needed to ensure IGs can identify additional waste and abuses within our government, saving taxpayers money and holding our government accountable for every cent citizens give them in taxes. Senator Portman understands the importance of IGs and has co-sponsored the Securing IG Independence Act (S. 587), which aims to better equip Congress to effectively oversee the removal of inspectors general. But the bill has not yet been brought up for consideration in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, despite Portman’s position as the committee’s highest ranking Republican.

This legislation couldn’t be more timely, and not just because the Senate just approved massive federal spending on our nation’s infrastructure. This legislation is necessary because inspectors general — and the oversight they bring — have been undermined in recent years, prompting nine former watchdogs to urge Congress to pass long overdue reforms.

Multiple administrations have accepted the curtailment of IGs authorities and perpetuated serious widespread vacancies in these offices, undermining the U.S. government’s accountability.

Senator Portman’s bill rightly seeks to bolster IG’s independence and stability, taking politics out of these offices and addressing future vacancies. S. 587 would require any president seeking to remove an IG to give ‘substantive rationale’ for his or her decision. Additionally, the bill defines an explicit line of succession that better fills OIG vacancies. But that legislation stops short of protecting inspectors general from removal without cause.

The IG Independence and Empowerment Act (H.R. 2662), which recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote, goes further to explicitly protect these essential government watchdogs from removal without cause. The House bill couples that additional independence with reforms to the Integrity Committee, which provides oversight of IGs and their senior staff, to help ensure that these vital officers approach their work with the utmost integrity.

Both the Senate and House bills would empower IGs to better detect financial savings for government and taxpayers, something Senator Portman has championed throughout his career.

Reforms that increase the strength of IGs are important steps forward in holding our government accountable and ensuring Ohio taxpayer dollars are used effectively. If Congress allows the executive branch keep undermining these important offices, corruption and mismanagement are inevitable. Passing IG reform is a necessary step to rein in and prevent government waste and doggedly pursuing these reforms should be a natural part of Senator Portman’s legacy for Ohio.

JOHN MORROW,

Wellsville

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