Lay to rest any doubts on new office's setup

By all accounts, George Schroeder successfully led the agency responsible for keeping tabs on how state agencies do their jobs for 33 years.

The Legislative Audit Council has provided key investigative reports on such agencies as the Department of Transportation and the now-defunct Employment Security Commission.

So when Schroeder says he is troubled at the employment setup for a new inspector general's office, we ought to pay attention.

Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Schroeder inspector general in March under an executive order. At the same time, legislation to create the office was making its way through the General Assembly. The office would be responsible for investigating fraud and waste in executive branch agencies only. The Legislative Audit Council works for the General Assembly.

Schroeder, who came out of retirement to launch the inspector general's office, left his new job after just six weeks when he 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.

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.

Haley and her staff say the employment setup is allowed under the executive order power Haley used to create the job. Schroeder's replacement is doing what Schroeder balked at doing: He's deciding whom to hire, but they will be paid as employees of Cabinet agencies, not the inspector general.

Creating an inspector general position is included in House and Senate bills for a new Department of Administration, but neither got through the legislature this session. Haley has said she supports the legislation.

The legislation sets up a funding mechanism for the new office without its having to rely on other agencies to pay for its employees. That would be better even assuming that employees would not pull any punches just because they were paid by the agencies they were investigating.

The new inspector general, Jim Martin, a former S.C. State Law Enforcement Division inspector, reported last week that he had opened investigations into as many as nine of the state's 22 executive branch agencies.

Before we get too far into this venture, it might be good to get a third-party opinion on whether Haley is right or Schroeder is right on how this new office has been set up, especially if there's any delay next year in getting the enabling legislation passed.

It would seem the more independence it has, the better job it can do.