• Lynch Lauds Watchdogs, Ignores Justice Department’s Roadblocks

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch lauded inspectors general investigating waste, fraud and inefficiency in government at an award ceremony Thursday, but made no mention of new roadblocks to such investigations her department creates by denying access to important records.

    “I’m honored to be among a group of renaissance leaders,” Lynch told the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. “Your hard work has improved the effectiveness of our government. By investigating wrongdoing … you are strengthening the very institutions that govern our society.”

    Lynch delivered the keynote address at CIGIE’s 18th annual award ceremony to recognize more than 87 federal watchdogs for work in holding government accountable and saving billions of tax dollars.

    But she said nothing about the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion issued in July that said laws with specific privacy clauses – such as with wiretapping – are exempt from the IGs’ investigations and audits, even though the Inspector General Act of 1978 requires that IGs have unfettered access to all government documents required in their work.

    “I emphasize ‘all’ because unrestricted access to agency records ensures that our essential functions cannot be thwarted,” CIGIE Chairman and Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz wrote on the issue Sunday in the Washington Post.

    “Without independent access to agency records, our ability as IGs to conduct the kind of sensitive reviews that have resulted in widespread improvements in the effectiveness of government programs will be significantly compromised,” Horowitz wrote.

    Lynch previously voiced support for legislation that would strengthen and clarify watchdogs’ privileges, according to USA Today.

    “The department has long held the position that the inspector general should have access to all the information it needs to perform its essential oversight function,” Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said. “Consistent with this view, department leadership has implemented procedures to ensure that the inspector general receives sensitive law enforcement information in a timely manner.”

    “The 72 inspector general offices have one of the most difficult … challenges in the government,” Lynch said. “I saw how challenging your job can be.”

    She said IG auditors and investigators must be experts on a wide range of subjects. Lynch also thanked Horowitz – who she has known for 20 years – for his work as DOJ’s IG and as chairman of CIGIE.

    The IGs accounted for $46.5 billion in potential savings, including “$13.8 billion in potential savings from audit recommendations; $32.7 billion in potential savings from investigative recoveries and receivables; over 5,500 indictments and criminal informations; over 5,800 successful prosecutions; over 5,100 suspensions and debarments; and over 547,000 hotline complaints processed,” according to a CIGIE statement.

    Awards highlighted during Thursday’s ceremony included a Department of Agriculture IG investigation that led to the conviction of two brothers defrauding the crop insurance program for over $4.3 million. Another notable case was a Department of Veterans Affairs IG investigation that led to 12 people’s convictions for stealing patients’ records and using them to file fraudulent tax returns.

    The awards were presented by Horowitz and National Science Foundation IG and CIGIE Vice Chairman Allison Lerner.

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