The Case for an Independent Inspector General – Sen. Ryan Aument and Rep. Mindy Fee

 

Over the past six months the General Assembly and Governor Wolf have greatly struggled to find agreement on the 2015-16 state budget. As the impasse continues, we again offer our apologies to the people of Lancaster County for the inability of state government to properly function.

To be sure, Republicans and Democrats genuinely disagree about the cost, size and scope of government. Governor Wolf has insisted on raising taxes and the more conservative Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate believe we should manage within our means and address longstanding cost-drivers such as public sector pensions which are crippling our state budget and school districts.

Recently, we introduced legislation that seeks to put aside the differences about raising taxes and spending more money and instead focus on valuing the current tax contributions people make to state government.

House Bill 1618 and Senate Bill 1025 build on a great idea first implemented by Democrat Governor Bob Casey.

In 1987, Governor Casey created Pennsylvania’s first Office of Inspector General, whose mission is to prevent, investigate, and eradicate waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in the programs and operations of state government.

Each year since its creation, the Inspector General has conducted investigations to ensure that your tax dollars are not being abused or misused. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been saved by having this government watchdog and many more millions have been reclaimed by catching those who seek to cheat government programs.

Our current Inspector General is a cabinet-level official who is appointed by, and directly reports to, the Governor. This is because the Office of Inspector General only exists by Executive Order.

Our legislation would create this important post by law and give the Inspector General more tools to find waste, fraud and abuse.

Just as importantly, our bills would also make the Inspector General an independent office, free of the political influence of any Governor, who now can unilaterally direct the work of the Inspector General.

The important work of preventing, investigating and eradicating fraud, waste, abuse and misconduct in programs, operations and contracting demands independence. No Inspector General should fear losing their job because they uncover problems in state government. This is precisely why most states fully empower their Inspector General to work outside of political influences.

Pennsylvania is currently among a very small number of states that do not have a law directing the Inspector General’s important work. In developing this legislation, we examined the practices of most other states and the federal government. Our goal was simple – take the best practices that produce the best results and use them to enhance the good work that is already being done.

For example, our Inspector General needs access to records, files and information to do his job properly. There are times when state agencies or contractors are less than helpful in providing that information. So our bill gives the Inspector General subpoena power, something that is long overdue.

Our legislation also requires the Inspector General to file reports with the General Assembly. The idea is to better inform lawmakers of the problems that may exist in programs or contracting. Certainly, if there are loopholes in the law that allow people to take advantage of a government program, lawmakers need to know that.

At a time when public resources are becoming increasingly scarce, we have an obligation to make sure that we are not wasting your money.

It has become too easy for the government funding conversation to always focus on more money. Pennsylvanians will spend over $30 billion this year on their government, and you deserve to know we value your existing tax dollars.

Good government does not happen by chance. We need to work together on objectives that we should all agree on, including finding waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct in state government contracting and programs.

We are proud to support Governor Casey’s idea and build on its success.

We are also hopeful that Governor Wolf will follow in Governor Casey’s footsteps and sign this legislation into law so the people of Lancaster County and Pennsylvania know that it is never acceptable to cheat government – which is really cheating the hard working men, women and businesses that pay taxes.

CONTACT:
Jake Smeltz
(717) 787-4420