The Office of Inspector General is on much firmer footing with a new law laying out its duties and broadening its authority.
The inspector is charged with sniffing out fraud, waste, mismanagement and abuse in state agencies. He has subpoena powers; whistle-blowers can report anonymously; and it is an independent agency with its own funding.
This idea got off to a very rocky start. Gov. Nikki Haley created the position of inspector general by executive order last year, but responsibilities were limited to the governor's 16 cabinet agencies.
Her first choice for inspector general, Legislative Audit Council veteran George Schroeder, quit after just six weeks. Schroeder and Haley's staff disagreed over the appropriateness of Schroeder's hiring employees who would be paid for by Cabinet agencies. He said the practice would undermine the inspector's independence, and he worried that investigators who were paid by certain agencies might have problems thoroughly investigating those same agencies.
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He also said it was at odds with state budget laws that allocate money for agency operations and the workers who perform them. He said he had criticized the practice in years past as the Legislative Audit Council's executive director.
The new law clears up the independence issue, with the agency funded by the legislature.
Haley seems to have jumped the gun with her executive order, setting up the office even as she said she supported the legislation. She put things back in order when she signed it into law.
There is a bit of head-scratching when you think about a new agency, with its own staff and budget, being created to ferret out waste. The Office of Inspector General also co-exists with the Legislative Audit Council, which has the same type of job but reports to the General Assembly. It has done very good work over the years, including its investigations into the Department of Transportation and the now-defunct S.C. Employment Commission.
Supporters of the new office say the Legislative Audit Council has more work than it can handle, but we'd like to have a better understanding of how the Inspector General's Office will work alongside the Legislative Audit Council.
There are limits on the new office. It can't investigate judicial bodies, the legislature or political subdivisions, such as counties, cities and school districts. If the inspector finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, prosecution is turned over to others.
The inspector general is appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The governor can remove him from office for qualified reasons.
It will be important to hold the inspector and the agency accountable. The law states that agencies and their employees must cooperate and provide all documents and information requested. An investigation could be disruptive, so there should be very good reason for it. The inspector general makes the call on whether a final report is issued on an investigation, and only final reports are to be made public. He can file a civil action to recover money if the attorney general decides not to act or fails to act within a year.
The inspector general will have to submit an annual report to the governor, Senate president and House speaker about his agency's activities.
The bottom-line question is whether this new agency will be worth the additional expense. But it holds promise of being a potent force for good government.