WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation to increase transparency and accountability at the Department of Justice. The Inspector General Empowerment Act would eliminate a problem in the law that requires allegations of attorney misconduct at DOJ to be investigated by an agency that reports directly to the Attorney General rather than the autonomous Office of the Inspector General. The bill would remove this obvious conflict of interest and grant the OIG complete jurisdiction throughout the department. Senators Grassley and Murkowski are also original cosponsors.
“The rules that apply to inspectors general in other federal agencies should apply at the Department of Justice,” said Senator Lee, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Current law invites undue influence from the Attorney General’s office into the process and should be changed to ensure the integrity of investigations of misconduct within the Justice Department.”
“Inspectors General are true watchdogs who save taxpayer dollars and help deliver better services to Americans,” said Tester, Chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and federal programs. “This bill is a common-sense measure that makes sure taxpayers are getting the level of service they expect and increases oversight of an agency that has enormous powers under the Patriot Act.”
“When Americans pledge to abide by ’Liberty and Justice for all,’ that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions – it means everyone that in America everyone is held equally accountable,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “I’m proud to co-sponsor the Inspector General Empowerment Act because it does just that: it gives the men and women charged with judging the actions of attorneys the power to mete out justice within the Justice Department.”
A report just released by the Project on Government Oversight revealed that the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency overseen by the Attorney General, documented more than 650 instances of misconduct, yet details on if and how these cases were handled are not available to the public.
For example, a 2013 report from USA Today revealed that complaints from two federal judges who said Justice Department lawyers had misled them about the extent of the NSA surveillance program were never investigated. Had the OIG been in charge, it could have investigated these complaints without conflict of interest and the results of their report would have been made available without requiring a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Placing this responsibility under the OIG increases government transparency and ensures that instances of abuse will be handled in a timely and responsible manner,” Lee added.