House passes bill to speed an end to inspector general vacancies
Congress is so annoyed at how slowly presidents have nominated inspectors general that both parties want the reason down on paper.
The House passed a bill by voice vote Wednesday that would require a president to provide a written explanation whenever an inspector general's job has been open for at least 210 days without a nominee. It also would compel the president to estimate when a nomination is coming.
The current roster of vacancies is alarming to advocates for bettering democracy who focus on improved ethics and a commitment to open government. An IG's role is to be the independent watchdog posted inside a department or agency, investigating cases of waste, fraud and abuse and blowing the whistle with regular reports to Congress.
Of the 37 inspector general positions filled by a presidential nominee confirmed by the Senate, 11 are vacant — the job being done in some cases by acting or deputy IGs whose qualifications have not been vetted at confirmation hearings.
Some of the departments with the biggest budgets — including Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security — are without a confirmed IG.
Five of the jobs have been open since before the end of Obama administration. The Interior Department has not had an IG for more than a decade. President Trump has sent the Senate names to fill that job and just one other.
At a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in March, Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland said the "disturbingly slow" nomination process has been a problem through multiple administrations.
Forcing the White House to at least explain he it hasn't chosen new watchdogs is designed to speed the pace of nominations, if for no other reason than to avoid questions about whether preventing waste is a priority for an administration, said Rebecca Jones, policy counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, which last year released a report offering recommendations to strengthen the work of IGs and tracks current vacancies.
"That's not a question you want to have come up," she said. "Hopefully this will make it so that we don't even get to that phase because the president will prioritize nominations."
Last year the Government Accountability Office reported that 53 of the 64 major inspector general positions had been vacant at some point during the decade that ended in 2016, with the openings ranging from two weeks to six years. The law permitted many of those to be filled by an appointment, without a confirmation.
No one in the Senate has yet filed a companion to the House-passed bill. But two senators, Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, wrote to Trump last month urging him to "swiftly nominate qualified individuals to fill critical Inspector General (IG) vacancies" across the federal government.
The paper trail has become the industry standard for giving voters and elections officials confidence that ballots haven't been hacked. Now comes another back-to-the-future move for boosting security and bolstering public confidence in elections: the return of the 10-sided dice.
The quirky toys found in many high school classrooms and role-playing games are part of a pilot program announced this week in Pennsylvania, which is joining a handful of other states in trying out a math-based system for checking the accuracy of election returns.
The "risk-limiting audit" searches for irregularities in vote tallies and relies on some seriously advanced statistical analysis combined with a bit of analog randomness, which is where auditors using those pentagonal trapezohedrons (the dice) at public audit hearings will get involved.
Indiana is not moving nearly assertively enough to upgrade its voting machines so they're less vulnerable to hackers, a nonprofit alleges in a federal lawsuit pressing the state to spend millions more before the presidential election.
At issue is the timetable for eliminating the direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines that are in use in 58 of the state's 92 counties. The complaint filed Thursday by Indiana Vote by Mail, which advocates for any array of proposals to give Hoosiers easier access to the ballot box, wants to force the state to replace the paperless devices in the next year with machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail.
Indiana for now looks to be among just eight states using paperless balloting in 2020, when President Trump will be counting on its 11 electoral votes. The state last went for the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.