House and Senate lawmakers from both parties introduced legislation this week that would formally authorize the inspector general community’s website.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., introduced the “Oversight.gov Authorization Act” on Monday and Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Jody Hice, R-Ga., unveiled a companion bill on Tuesday. In October 2017, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency launched Oversight.gov to consulate reports from the 73 IGs across the government to give the public easier access. This was a volunteer effort and not done with appropriated funds.
The legislation would “formally authorize the establishment and maintenance of this website to help improve the public’s access to IG reports and other related material, as well as help whistleblowers report waste, fraud and abuse,” the lawmakers said in a press release. “Additionally, the bill would improve accountability over funds related to COVID-19 federal spending and the work of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee by bolstering the webpage dedicated to housing this information as mandated under the CARES Act.” The Justice Department and NASA inspectors general lead the pandemic committee that includes 19 IGs and deputy IGs who are working to ensure that the trillions of dollars in relief funds are not misspent.
The bill would authorize $3.5 million for fiscal 2021 through the end of fiscal 2030 through a “revolving fund,” which requires special authorization from Congress to finance a business-type operation. This is the first time it’s receiving a set funding level. Since the website was established three years ago it has only “received modest appropriations from Congress to expand its capabilities,” Federal News Network noted on Wednesday.
Oversight.gov has evolved over years to include a tracker for IG vacancies, more resources for whistleblowers and information on disaster oversight. CIGIE wrote in a June 2019 report that creating an open recommendations database (of which there is a beta version so far) and integrating it with that of the Government Accountability Office is one of its desired enhancements. However, “the lack of an ongoing and predictable funding stream for Oversight.gov represents a significant risk to this project,” said the report.
The website “helps to bring together the great work of our inspectors general from across the bureaucracy,” Grassley said. A “one-stop-shop for transparency is essential to improving accountability in the information age,” he added.
“IGs are critical to rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in our government, and this website will make their findings more accessible to the American people,” Lieu said. “I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill to increase transparency in the IG community.”
The nonprofit watchdog Campaign for Accountability, think tank R Street Institute, grassroots advocacy organization Common Cause, whistleblower advocacy group Government Accountability Project, and watchdog group Project On Government Oversight endorsed the bill. The lawmakers also said they consulted CIGIE in its crafting.