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Make agency oversight permanent

In January, Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., sent a letter to the White House co-signed by 14 other senators that urged President Barack Obama to fill the vacant inspector general positions at six government agencies.

Some positions, such as the State Department’s, have been vacant up to five years.

“Inspectors General are an essential component of government oversight” and “occupy a unique role,” the senators noted. They specifically pointed to the IGs’ authority for “speaking truth to power” in addition to their “dual reporting obligations to their agency head and to Congress.”

The president has taken some action in the nearly seven months since the letter arrived. Any further delays translate into more waste, fraud and abuse that might be prevented with proper oversight.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, the departments that lack permanent inspectors general account for about $843 billion in annual spending. How much might be saved if each of these agencies had an official in place to manage institutional accountability?

None of this is to say that those agencies with interim or acting IGs are in danger of spiraling out of control. Temporary officials at Homeland Security and Labor, for instance, have issued 63 and 41 reports, respectively, and seem to be engaged in investigating their agencies’ activities as well as monitoring the personnel they employ.

Still, acting IGs inevitably have less authority, and leaving these positions vacant for such long periods sends a message of disrespect for a mission that should be central to any administration claiming an interest in good government and frugal budgets.

The White House should waste no more time in naming inspectors general for the remaining agencies that lack them.