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Most transparent administration in history? Justice Department's own watchdog says department is obstructing its work

Attorney General Eric Holder (Image source: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General testified Tuesday that senior-level officials at the department are preventing the OIG from accessing documents and other information, which is stopping it from conducting proper oversight under the Inspector General Act.

"The FBI and some other Department components have not read Section 6(a) of the IG Act as giving my office access to all records in their possession and therefore have refused our requests for various types of Department records," Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified in his prepared remarks. "As a result, a number of our reviews have been significantly impeded."

Image source: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File The Justice Department, run by Attorney General Eric Holder, is blocking its own internal watchdog group from accessing certain documents. AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Horowitz was one of 47 inspectors general that wrote a letter to Congress last month complaining that various departments are impairing their work. He said that recently, the FBI objected to giving the OIG certain information, which prompted a complaint to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Horowitz said Holder ultimately gave OIG permission to access the records they were seeking, but said his office shouldn't have to rely on permission.

"The Attorney General and deputy Attorney General should not have to order department components to provide us with access to records that the Congress has already made it clear in the IG Act that we are entitled to review," he said. "Second, requiring the OIG to have to obtain the permission of Department leadership in order to review agency records compromises our independence."

"The IG Act expressly provides that an independent Inspector General should decide whether documents are relevant to an OIG’s work; however, the current process at the Department instead places that decision and authority in the leadership of the agency that is being subjected to our oversight," he added.

Horowitz cited other examples, such as a decision by top Justice Department officials to get an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel about whether certain information should be released to the OIG.

"In the absence of a resolution of this dispute, our struggles to access information relevant to our reviews in a timely manner continue to cause delays to our work and consume resources," he testified. "They also have a substantial impact on the morale of the auditors, analysts, agents, and lawyers who work extraordinarily hard every day to do the difficult oversight work that is expected of them."

"Indeed, even routine requests can sometimes become a challenge," Horowitz added. "For example, in two ongoing audits, we even had trouble getting organizational charts in a timely manner."

The August letter to Congress from dozens of inspectors general significantly undermined the Obama administration's claim that it is the one of the most transparent administrations in history.

"We have learned that the Inspectors General for the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency… and the Department of Justice have recently faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas," they wrote in their letter. "These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every Inspector General and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner."

Read the August IG letter here:

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