Bay to Bay News | by Craig Anderson
A bipartisan effort by lawmakers to craft legislation that creates a watchdog Inspector General’s Office may be coming.
Currently, however, state Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, has already filed a bill and Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said Tuesday he expects a similar bill to be filed by the end of the week.
In Rep. Kowalko’s proposal, according to a synopsis, “The (Inspector General) will protect the health and safety of Delaware residents, assist in the recovery of misspent or inappropriately paid funds, and strengthen government and the public trust in government operations …”
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, is being circulated to legislators in a bid to gain more sponsors. Today is the deadline for response.
House Bill 370, with Sen. Smith as the primary sponsor, takes a similar approach to developing a nonpartisan Inspector General’s Office headed by a non-elected official. The synopsis reads in part:
“The inspector general created under this act would be charged with investigating complaints of waste, fraud, abuse, or corruption regarding state employees or state executive branch agencies …”
HB 370 was assigned to the House Administration committee March 31 and awaits discussion.
On Tuesday, Rep. Smith said he needed “to review the legislation, compare them and see how the sponsors and I can work together.
“On the surface, we both have the same goal so I look forward to dialogue with Rep. Kowalko about it to see how we can help each other with the same goal.”
Also Tuesday, Rep. Kowalko said that creating an Inspector General’s Office should be a bipartisan effort and he hoped to contact Rep. Smith.
“I intend to reach out to him and ask whether he would like to sit down with me to discuss, do it by phone or whatever,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of response I will get. I don’t think he’s an unreasonable person.
“Mike Smith has a lot of the qualities of honesty and all that I think that maybe we can make a partnership.”
The way Rep. Kowalko sees it, “The ‘Delaware Way’ has become almost a rubber stamp for secrets for the protection of corporations that’s valued over protection of the taxpayer money, the people of Delaware. So I think that this office in Delaware will go leaps and bounds to enabling us to clean up this.”
The office could serve as a “clearinghouse” to register public complaints and concerns, Rep. Kowalko said.
“That would be a key part of it,” he said.
“Once it’s established, it would be somewhere for people to call and say, (hypothetically) ‘You know, the Department of Education or whatever, I know they’ve been doing this.’
“These agencies would have employees in them that could provide information and the agencies would now be subject to more scrutiny from the public.
“The public can use a place to register their concerns. I’m sure many things will turn up when the legitimacy of an action is scrutinized, and those are actions right now that they get away with.”
The Sen. Sokola-Rep. Kowalko bill would require the Inspector General’s Office to begin work by March 1, 2023.
According to HB 370, “The Act would become effective 180 days after it is enacted and upon appropriate funding being budgeted for the office’s operations.”