WDC Testimony in Opposition to Creating a Legislative Office of Inspector General

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Testimony before the Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations in opposition to creating the legislative office of inspector general (Assembly Bill 382).
WDC Testimony in Opposition to Creating a Legislative Office of Inspector General (Assembly Bill 382)

Before the Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations

December 16, 2015

Dear Distinguished Members of the Assembly:

I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which is now in its twentieth year as an advocate for clean and open government in our beloved state.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Opposes Assembly Bill 382 for the following five reasons:

1. Cost

One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. David Craig, has estimated that each new inspector general position would cost between $70,000 and $120,000 a year, and that doesn’t include their staffs. This will add more than $1 million to the state budget, which is already out of balance. Plus, the expense of the inspector general and staff will be borne by each agency, many of which even now do not have enough funds to do their jobs properly.

2. Redundancy

We already have the Legislative Audit Bureau in place, which is doing a tremendous job, according to comments by our elected officials in both parties who sit on the Legislative Audit Committee. It’s now in its 50 th year, and it already is empowered to go after fraud, waste, and abuse. In fact, on its website, it says: “We investigate allegations of fraud and other improper acts by state agencies, employees, and contractors.” And in 2007, the Wisconsin legislature, through Act 126, created a fraud, waste, and mismanagement hotline that allows the public and individuals within state government to report suspected fraud and other improper acts by state agencies, employees, and contractors, which the Legislative Audit Bureau then investigates.

We don’t need the inspectors general because we already have the LAB.

3. Separation of Powers

Putting inspectors general who are appointed and directed by the legislature into executive branch agencies creates a separation of powers problem. Today in Wisconsin, we have an inspector general for the Department of Children and Families, for example, but that inspector general is appointed by the Secretary of that Department, not by the legislature. It’s not appropriate for the legislature to put its own people in the executive branch.

4. Consolidation of One-Party Rule

Our last two reasons for opposing this bill are the most important ones.

We are deeply concerned that this bill would consolidate one-party rule.

When you have a situation like you have today, when one party already controls both chambers, that party, under this bill, would have the power to further entrench its power in several ways.

First, since the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization would appoint the inspector generals, and since that committee is dominated by the party that controls both chambers, the committee could vote to appoint inspectors general who are “their folks,” regardless of the language in the bill about the need for nonpartisanship.

Second, since the bill would authorize the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader to jointly direct the inspectors general, and since the Speaker and the Majority Leader are from the same party, this again gives the party that controls both chambers enormous leverage to boss around agencies in partisan ways.

Third, by appointing inspectors general for six-year terms, the leaders of the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization could install their people well into the future, enabling them to exercise influence over the bureaucracy even after they may no longer be in power.

5. Invitation to Corruption

Our last point is also a very important one: This bill is an open invitation to corruption. It would allow the inspector general to review claims by any individual that he or she has been adversely and substantially affected by an agency action or order. If that individual happened to be a big donor to the party in power that appointed the inspector general, there would be a strong incentive for the inspector general to side with the donor and not the agency, regardless of the public good.

For these reasons, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign strongly opposes this bill.

Thank you.