Trump’s Attacks on Inspectors General

Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the independent Offices of Inspector General (IGs) have provoked significant public controversy.

Since I was a lawyer for IGs in three different agencies between 1993 and my retirement in 2018 I feel qualified to comment on this issue. In these jobs I assisted teams of criminal investigators and auditors in their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of government funds. Since I am retired, I am freer to express my view of this matter.

In the course of my IG jobs I frequently worked with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and their staffs. Everyone in Congress that I worked with, including the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans, liked the IGs because they provided reliable, objective information about government problems.

Trump’s efforts to undermine IGs deserve more national attention. The relative lack of attention is probably a result of the national health crisis. While thousands of people are dying it’s tempting to downplay what may appear to many citizens as an insignificant reshuffling of organization charts.

This relative lack of attention is a large mistake. Trump’s actions are a significant attack on an institution that is one of the most effective independent oversight bodies. It’s part of a pattern that threatens our democracy. A bipartisan response is needed. There are some signs that this is beginning to coalesce, but given the tremendous level of political polarization, success in these efforts should not be taken for granted. The bizarre reaction of Attorney General Bill Barr reduces optimism that this scandal will be appropriately addressed.

Glenn Fine

One more point: I know Glenn Fine, one of the IGs Trump has undermined. He was and is absolutely one of the most respected IGs. That’s why a panel of his peers selected him to lead the oversight of the trillions of dollars Congress is giving Trump to spend. Fine was not fired, merely demoted, but the demotion removes him from any real decision making oversight role.

I have no personal acquaintance with Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General who Trump recently fired. He assumed office only a few months before I retired, but as a result of my work in the IG community I do know that this job is considered one of the most sensitive and difficult IG positions. Only the most capable people are considered for the DNI IG position.

Finally, a personal note:

Once I became an IG lawyer, I never wanted to do any other type of work. I loved it because we were independent. We went after Democrats or Republicans with equal fervor. We really didn’t give a damn.

This is the Inspector General ethos. This is why Trump fears IGs. It is why, when so many Americans are dying, sick or distracted in the midst of a great national public emergency, Trump is taking advantage of this to undermine their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.

Jerry Lawson

Inspectors General

Many people today are cynical about government, cynical about public service. My attitude is different. Thirty-seven years as a lawyer in the federal civil service have left me with an enduring respect for the people who handle the most difficult jobs, often for much less than they could earn in the private sector. 

During the last 26 years of my civil service legal career work I worked with teams of auditors and criminal investigators in three federal agencies to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in government. This was the best job I ever had. I was pleased when my peers in the Council of Counsels to the Inspectors General (the IG lawyer working group) gave me their career achievement award.

I came to identify with the Inspector General mission of making government more effective. I am available to speak at no charge or serve as a resource for the news media on the following topics:

  • IG relationships with Congress and the Executive Branch. This presentation includes close analysis of constitutional issues involving the effect of Executive Privilege on IG work. This presentation is primarily for IGs, their lawyers and senior staff.
  • IG Access to Information. This presentation includes some discussion of the Executive Privilege constitutional issues mentioned above but is broader in scope, covering situations that don’t involve constitutional issues but may be difficult as a practical matter. This presentation is primarily for IGs, their lawyers and senior staff, including auditors and criminal investigators. This presentation should have some value for most IGs, but it may be particularly useful for smaller Offices of Inspector General without large legal staffs who may benefit from the views of someone with significant practical experience.
  • Liaison between criminal investigators and federal prosecutors. This presentation is primarily for criminal investigators and IG lawyers. Many IGs, their senior staffs and some Assistant United States Attorneys might also find it useful. I have also given this presentation for the Association of Inspectors General, which involved mainly state and local IGs. An article I co-authored on this topic is archived at the website, or through a direct link from this website. I’m finishing a followup article for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners now. This is one of my favorite topics because in my experience this is a key area where relatively small changes in approach can provide large benefits to OIGs and Assistant United States Attorneys.

Contact me via LinkedIn for more information.