By Joan Wadelton, Guest Contributor
When King Augeas asked Hercules to clean out his stables, Hercules – seeing that the task was impossible by normal means – rerouted two rivers to wash out the years of filth. A tale those of us in Washington should heed, lest the American people – pushed beyond their limits – divert the Potomac and sweep all of us away.
Americans across party lines are deeply dissatisfied with Washington. And well they might be, as government incompetence and corruption have become hallmarks of the daily news cycle.
Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is partisan and ineffective, with an Administration's party refusing to address problems within its agencies and the opposition party doing little else. Neither party is offering solutions.
The Executive Branch – which conducts the taxpayers' business and spends the taxpayers' money – appears incapable of policing its own operations. Endless public scandals demonstrate that agency Inspectors General have failed across the government.
And finally, whistleblowers – who provide a valuable service to the American people – routinely suffer retaliation. Whistleblower protection laws are inadequately enforced, employee protection entities (such as the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board) routinely side with management and Congress is indifferent.
A FEW PROPOSED REMEDIES
First – To Fix Agency Problems, Congress Must Be Aware of Them
Congress is frequently unaware of problems in the very Executive Branch agencies it is tasked with overseeing, even when they are well known inside the affected agency.
Reports of government mismanagement and corruption are frequent but scattershot. They can appear in press outlets or through watchdog groups. When whistleblowers do contact Congress, they may speak to offices without jurisdiction over the matter. This can mean that – while significant issues are being reported on many fronts – a lack of coordination obscures their severity.
Therefore, Congress should establish a coordinating mechanism to collect, investigate and resolve whistleblower complaints, press and GAO reports and other accounts of mismanagement and corruption in the Executive Branch. This mechanism would comprise bipartisan, bicameral staff committees organized by subject matter. For example, majority and minority staffers of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees would jointly compare and collate accounts of problems in foreign affairs agencies. Thereafter, they would investigate and recommend solutions for those that had reached critical mass.
Second – Correct Failings in the System of Agency Inspectors General
The Inspector General Act of 1978 (as amended) creates a three-pronged reporting requirement for agency Inspectors General – to their agency heads, to Congress and to the public. As press and other reports have documented in recent years, Inspectors General – entrusted by the American taxpayers to uncover and combat waste, fraud and mismanagement – have frequently failed to do so. Whether because of a refusal by agencies to implement findings and recommendations of Inspectors General, or through active wrongdoing by Inspectors General and their staffs, the system is not working.
Efforts by Inspectors General to cover-up internal agency problems probably have several roots, among them: