Commentary: Independent government oversight needed

Delaware State News | Opinion | by Nick Wasileski & Keith Steck

Transparency, accountability, and “in the public interest” describe essential guideposts to assist state officials in establishing laws, making decisions, and carrying out policies for the well-being, safety, and happiness of Delaware’s citizens.

When state officials dismiss these guideposts, misconduct, mismanagement, and neglect of office swiftly can lead to conflicting policies and actions and even fraud. Consequently, the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DelCOG) perceives a need for an independent, nonpartisan office for oversight and investigation to ensure good government: that is, a Delaware Office of the State Inspector General.

With the authority to oversee and investigate government officials, state agencies, and state-funded entities, an Inspector General can address questionable state policies as well as play a key role in holding state officials accountable for their decisions and actions — or in some cases, inaction.

A Delaware State Office of the Inspector General will:

1) provide state agency oversight and compliance with state laws to enhance public trust in state government.

2) investigate state agencies to deter / stop corruption, crime, fraud, abuse, waste, misconduct, malfeasance, nonfeasance, mismanagement, and neglect of office to ensure compliance with state laws.

The inspector general can act in concert with the offices of the Attorney General, the State Auditor, and the Public Integrity Commission. A Delaware Office of the State Inspector General, needed to promote ethical and legal behavior, would fill a void in Delaware state government to stop agency mismanagement and abuse of office.

The Inspector General would hold government officials ethically and legally accountable to the principles described in Delaware’s Oath of Office and Code of Conduct, as well as for official misconduct and abuse of office described in the Delaware Criminal Code.

By evaluating or investigating agency deficiencies and recommending changes to state laws, the Inspector General will assist in rectifying systemic state-created problems. If laws are broken, the Inspector General can recommend legal action.

It is important to state that citing agency mismanagement is not a wholesale condemnation of the many dedicated Delaware state employees who serve us. But when state agencies fail in their missions, exceed their boundaries, or ignore their inherent responsibilities, the public has the right to demand solutions and expect them to be implemented.

Two-thirds of all states and the District of Columbia have offices of the inspector general. In Florida every state agency is assigned its own inspector general, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Corrections.

There are perceptions that numerous state problems — examples: air and water pollution; environmental justice issues; disruption of public transportation for low-income residents, minorities, senior citizens, and the disabled; and risks to the health and safety of incarcerated persons — could very well be the result of state agency mismanagement, neglect of office, and influence by special interests.

Detrimental policies and actions — and in some cases, inaction — are the result of deep-rooted counterproductive characteristics, such as influence by special and political interests, conflicts of interest, quid pro quo, cronyism, misstatement of facts, and a lack of concern and disregard for the environment, the citizens, and the workforce.

Chronic and unresolved problems such as these are antithetical to Delaware’s ethical and legal directives and warrant an independent, nonpartisan Delaware Inspector General to oversee and investigate offending state agencies and to correct wrongdoing.

In response to alerts by resident and state-employee whistleblowers, a Delaware Inspector General would investigate state-created problems, and mandate that government agencies act in the public interest and conduct agency affairs with honesty, integrity, and rectitude. Without such oversight and the ability to rectify wrongdoing, the unfortunate consequences are questionable policies and actions without consideration for long-term negative effects.

In 2007, the Delaware House of Representatives introduced House Bill 155 to create an Office of the State Inspector General. HB 155 passed in the Delaware House but died in the Senate. Eight sponsors of HB 155 are still in the Delaware General Assembly: Senators Cloutier, Bonini, Ennis, Sokola, and Hocker, and Representatives Brady, Kowalko, and Mitchell. Their leadership and that of other members of the General Assembly is necessary to advance legislation once again for an Inspector General.

Nick Wasileski is president and Keith Steck is vice president and chair of the Inspector General Committee at Delaware Coalition for Open Government.

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Posted in Opinion Articles.