COMMENTARY: The need for an independent state inspector general in Delaware

The following is the first part of a three-part series entitled “Curing Delaware’s Flawed Governance.” The second and third parts will appear Monday and Tuesday, respectively:

Delaware’s recent state integrity ranking of 48 by the Center for Public Integrity is cause for serious reflection regarding state government reform.

In comparison to 50 states, Delaware also has one of the weakest public integrity codes in the nation. Apparent conflicts of interest and ethics questions that are passable in the state of Delaware and its political subdivisions are not tolerated in many other states due to their stronger public integrity codes. Questions of public integrity do not have to be criminal or ethical in nature to be major obstacles to proper government administration.

More often than not, cumulatively, institutional waste and inefficiency legally but unwisely consumes more public resources than cases of blatantly criminal conduct. Consequently, questions of public integrity occur over a wide range of government functions from major fraud through abuse of power, malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance, to basic institutional waste and inefficiency.

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Dave Graham

From the Tigani scandal to the major design defects and cost overruns on the Indian River Bridge Project, through numerous smaller but collectively significant cases of public corruption, these instances point toward the need for a more comprehensive solution to the pernicious problem of public corruption and mismanagement in the First State.

Firstly, a stronger public integrity code is a fundamental requirement. Secondly, and more incisively, establishment of an independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) will go a long way to restore public integrity in Delaware. This is much easier said than done in the current closed-loop, special interest driven state political environment and culture known as “the Delaware Way,” as it requires passage of major legislation (if not a state constitutional amendment) through the General Assembly — itself an integral part of the status quo in need of reform.

Simply stated, an inspector general can be compared to a state auditor “on steroids.” This is not a reflection on the performance of our current state auditor, but is more reflective on the structural legal and budgetary institutional constraints of his office in the face of major public integrity and government efficiency problems, as only a relatively small number of cases of apparent waste, fraud and abuse can be investigated in a given year.

Historically, on the federal level, the trend toward establishment of offices of inspectors general began in earnest with the post-Watergate passage of the Inspector General Act of 1978. Twelve federal OIGs were initially created and the number grew in time to the current level of 78.

Currently all cabinet departments and most major federal agencies have incorporated inspectors general in their tables of organization. The Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 increased the compensation and expanded the powers of federal inspectors general and also created the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) — an independent research, professional development and information agency for inspectors general, within the executive branch.

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Wolfgang von Baumgart

Currently, 38 out of 50 states have established some form of an Office of Inspector General with 12 having statewide powers and 26 dedicated to specific state agencies. Others states have comptrollers, comptrollers general, state auditors or auditors general with varying degrees of powers and law enforcement authority of inspectors general. The trend towards establishing state OIGs is increasing with proposed legislation in some states.

This trend is driven by combination of increasing financial pressure on states requiring more efficient uses of limited resources, public realization of a greater need to combat government waste and corruption as well as a general pattern of organizational streamlining and modernization. Many counties and cities, faced with problems of waste and corruption have also established offices of inspectors general.

Beyond the powers of auditing, inspection, performance monitoring and general efficiency analysis of state auditors, the authority of state inspectors general may include specific criminal law enforcement powers of investigation, execution of search warrants, and arrest, making their offices more suitable to cases of prosecution and prevention of major public corruption.

States that have established OIGs have generally reported that they have saved significantly more money than their initial startup costs in their first year of operation. This generally contradicts the inertial political argument that establishment of OIGs is nothing more than expansion of government. Properly implemented, OIGs can actually increase efficiency of government operations and reduce labor costs, making them key frontline elements of public integrity.

For Delaware, the question is less a question of whether to and more a question of how to establish an independent Office of Inspector General having jurisdiction over the state and its political subdivisions, their contractors, agents and assigns in an effort to increase overall public integrity.

So far, the two “major” parties have accomplished very little in this category. Perhaps, establishing an independent Delaware Office of Inspector General will require nothing short of an independent political effort in the event that the General Assembly and governor fail to act in the greater public interest. While the Democratic and Republican parties currently have no pending state inspector general legislation, the Independent Party of Delaware has drafted a state constitutional amendment and comprehensive companion bill.

Ultimately, the issue is up to the voters to decide.

Editor’s Note: Dave Graham was the 2014 Independent Party of Delaware (IPoD) candidate for attorney general, the 2012 IPoD-endorsed Republican write-in candidate for governor, the 2010 Republcan write-in candidate for attorney general, a 2008 filed Republican candidate for governor, and a candidate in the 2004 Republican primary for governor. He also serves as the treasurer for IPoD.

Wolfgang von Baumgart is the secretary general and chairman emeritus of the Independent Party of Delaware. Mr. von Baumgart is a reporter for the MidLantic Dispatch and Delaware Politics.net.

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