Bay to Bay News | by Craig Anderson
Maybe one of the latest proposals for an Office of the Inspector General will succeed this year.
Two pending bills to create an IG in the state are scheduled to be filed prior to April 5.
State Rep. Mike Smith, a Pike Creek Republican, is sponsoring a bill in which “The inspector general would be charged with investigating complaints of waste, fraud, abuse or corruption regarding state employees or state agencies.
“While we have a state auditor and a state attorney general, this office would fill a gap in their coverage. The inspector general would work collaboratively with these agencies to provide more comprehensive accountability and serve as a point of contact where citizens could bring their concerns about government operations.”
In November 2021, state Rep. John Kowalko, a Newark Democrat, said he believed a still-evolving draft of a bill could be filed this year and then circulated to seek co-sponsors. The representative said he was working with Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, a Newark Democrat, to make it happen,
On Friday, Rep. Kowalko said he plans to file a final draft of a bill by the end of this week. He and Sen. Sokola have been working with other entities such as the Delaware Coalition for Open Government for more than a year on the framework of an IG in Delaware.
“I think it’s important that we somehow stabilize what government is doing,” Rep. Kowalko said. “Decisions that are made, actions that are taken by various agencies have to be scrutinized by an independent agency.”
Also, he said, “I think, in fact, we have agencies are trying to fulfill their responsibilities and may be feeling at this moment they could use an IG in an advisory capacity.”
Rep. Kowalko said the bill hasn’t been filed because, “it was just too important not to get it right.
“And that’s why it’s taking so long — to make sure that we have as good a draft initially as we can.”
The current push for an inspector general isn’t the first one. A 2007 attempt to create an IG’s office — at a proposed cost of $900,000 — failed, despite passing unanimously in the House of Representatives. House Bill 155 met its demise in the Senate.
Two bills attempting to establish a health care inspector general in the Division of Public Health were unsuccessful in 2007, as well.
The synopsis of Rep. Smith’s proposed Office of State Inspector General reads:
“The governor would nominate a candidate to serve as inspector general, with the Senate needing to confirm the nomination. The term of office for the post would be five years.
“State agencies would be required to cooperate with any investigation conducted by the office of inspector general, including full access to the personnel, records, and the premises under agency control. The inspector general would have subpoena powers and would employ police officers for the purpose of conducting potential criminal investigations.
“The office of inspector general would be mandated to share general audit and investigation reports with the public, excluding only that information needed to comply with Delaware confidentiality laws or which might compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.
“Audits, investigations, inspections and reviews conducted by the office of inspector general would be subject to independent quality assurance reviews every three years, with the results shared with the public.”
“This act would become effective 180 days after it is enacted and upon appropriate funding being budgeted for the office’s operations.”
Rep. Kowalko said “If developed, an IG would create an independent agency with a full-time, professional staff to look into fraud, waste and mismanagement, and not just accusations of financial wrongdoing or criminal conduct.”
According to Rep. Smith, “It is impossible to quantify the amount of fraud, abuse and waste in our state government.
“If we knew about it to the point we could measure it, we could deal with it. That is where the inspector general would come into play. It would provide a mechanism of discovery, filling a gap in coverage, and giving citizens a convenient, accessible way to make their concerns heard.
“It’s safe to say that no government that is spending $5 billion annually from the General Fund is 100% efficient.
“If the inspector general’s office can improve performance by even 1%, it will save taxpayers $50 million annually.
“Aside from that, the office has significant potential to enhance state government’s accountability and transparency — two things many Delawareans believe are in need of improvement.”
Rep. Kowalko pointed to last year’s indictment of State Auditor Kathy McGuiness on corruption charges — she pleaded not guilty on all counts — as raising the interest level in creating an IG.
Reps. Smith and Kowalko both said they were hopeful for broad support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
There are at least 11 states that already have an IG with statewide authority. There are a minimum of 26 states that have one or more agencies with an inspector general embedded within the organization they monitor. Five states reportedly have IG offices at both the state and agency levels, Rep. Smith said.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are currently 57 inspectors general operating on the federal level. The president appoints 29 of the IGs, who are confirmed by the Senate. The remaining 28 are appointed by their agency heads.
“In the states where they are operating, statewide inspectors general have demonstrated their effectiveness and value,” Rep. Smith said.
The way Common Cause Delaware Executive Director Claire Snyder-Hall sees it, “Delawareans deserve to have confidence that our tax dollars are being well-spent, and that our government officials are serving our interests, not their own interests or other private interests.
“That’s why Common Cause Delaware strongly supports the creation of an Inspector General’s office for the First State.
“We appreciate that there is bipartisan legislative support for creating such an office. We have seen proposed bills, and we expect to see changes as they go through the legislative process.”
Ms. Snyder-Hall urged all members to the General Assembly “to approach their consideration of these bills through the lens of taxpayers and voters – and ensure that the final version provides the inspector general with broad jurisdiction and investigative authority. And we urge a bipartisan effort to enact that measure into law.”
Some IG offices in states such as Massachusetts, Mr. Snyder-Hall said, “also have jurisdiction to investigate waste, fraud and abuse at the local level. Some, including New York’s IG, have authority to investigate the activities of state contractors.
“We urge the General Assembly to consider these and other options to ensure that, when the law is passed, Delawareans will have the robust inspector general’s office that we deserve.”