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Open Government

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.

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Open Government
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FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub

The struggle is real: FEC stalled on regulations for online political ads

The Federal Election Commission has once again punted on establishing rules for identifying who is sponsoring online political advertisements. Thursday marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which the topic fell to the wayside without a clear path forward.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub revived debate on the topic in June when she introduced a proposal on how to regulate online political ads. In her proposal, she said the growing threat of misinformation meant that requiring transparency for political ads was "a small but necessary step."

Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen and Commissioner Caroline Hunter put forth their own proposal soon after Weintraub, but the commissioners have failed to find any middle ground. At Thursday's meeting, a decision on the agenda item was pushed off to a later date.

Weintraub's proposal says the funding source should be clearly visible on the face of the ad, with some allowance for abbreviations. But Petersen and Hunter want to allow more flexibility for tiny ads that cannot accommodate these disclaimers due to space.

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Open Government
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

California's Supreme Court is expediting President Trump's challenge to a new state law that would require him to release five years of tax returns in order to get on the state ballot for the 2020 election.

California court expedites Trump challenge to new tax returns requirement

The California Supreme Court is fast-tracking its review of a challenge to a new law that would require President Trump to make public his tax returns in order to get on the state's ballot for the 2020 election.

A lawsuit seeking to block implementation of the law was filed August 6 by the California Republican Party against Secretary of State Alex Padilla. It claims the law violates California's constitution.

Two other challenges, one filed by Trump's personal lawyers, are pending in federal court.

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