Weekly Columns

The scandal surrounding the systematic, widespread problems in the health system of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) came to light well over a year ago, thanks in part to an investigation by VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). 

Yet that very same office has been without leadership for almost two years now. 

Without a permanent watchdog in place, it is difficult to make sure the necessary reforms are carried out. The lack of accountability makes it easier to sweep misconduct under the rug, which puts veterans at risk. Without a permanent IG, just the specter of impropriety is enough to cast doubts over the department. 

With that in mind, President Obama recently nominated attorney Michael Missal to take over as VA’s Inspector General (IG). The White House said he was nominated for the post in part because of his “proven record of expertly leading prominent, sensitive, and extensive investigations.” 

While I am pleased that the President has finally moved to fill this vacancy, the Senate must ensure he is the right person for the job. I will give Mr. Missal’s nomination a full review and should he pass the test, I fully intend to push my colleagues to move his nomination forward quickly. 

It should not have, however, taken this long for the President to send a nomination for this position over to the Senate. 

IG’s play a valuable role in the oversight of government efficiency and effectiveness. They are vital to reducing fraud and wasteful spending which is rampant in Washington. Their work enables Congress to improve programs, conduct thorough oversight and reduce waste of taxpayer dollars. To leave departments and agencies without a permanent watchdog for years is inexcusable. 

Since a Presidential nomination is required to fill most of the vacant IG spots, I offered an amendment to the Senate-passed budget resolution to help ensure these vacancies are filled. My colleagues agreed to add the amendment to the budget resolution in an effort to help turn up the heat on the President to take action. 

The indifference this administration has shown to filling IG vacancies gives the impression that President Obama seems to believe these positions are not important. For more than three decades, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has worked to improve the IG system. POGO shows that this administration, on average, left IG positions vacant longer than any other since the organization starting collecting data. If the President wants to show the American people that he is serious about fixing the problems in Washington, filling these vacancies would be an easy place to start. 

We need to restore the public’s faith in Washington. This begins with accountability. As taxpayers’ first line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse in Washington, IG’s play an instrumental role in this process. It is my hope that this nomination is the start of the trend of filing these vacancies.