The Obama Administration’s Defiance of Inspectors General—A Faulty Opinion from the Justice Department

This Administration promised to be the most transparent White House in history. Yet, on July 20, 2015, after 14 months of delay, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released an opinion from its Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that DOJ officers could withhold information at their discretion from the DOJ Inspector General (IG), the individual tasked with investigating them and other government officials.

This opinion authorizes DOJ officials to evade audits and investigation of possible misbehavior by claiming that information sought by an IG is protected under the non-disclosure provisions in the Federal Wiretap Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. At its core, this opinion circumvents section 6(a)(1) of the Inspector General Act of 1978, which empowers the IG to access “all” information necessary for audits and investigations of their federal agency.

If the DOJ opinion stands, and these three statutes provide a permissible basis to withhold information from an IG, it may enable employees in the DOJ and other federal agencies to shield their operations from IG oversight under other federal statutes with a similar non-disclosure provision.

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