September 26, 2020

[US] DOJ Inspector General says access to information is stymied

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Michael-HorowitzBy Jenna Greene, From Legal Times,

Faced with stonewalling and lack of prompt access to documents, U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the House oversight committee on Tuesday that his ability to do his job is being impeded.

“The status quo cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely,” Horowitz told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. To access certain documents, Horowitz said, his office must first get approval from the attorney general or deputy attorney general.

“If we have to go through agency leadership to decide if we can get evidence, that’s a serious problem undermining our independence,” he said. “We haven’t ultimately had anything withheld from us, but it turns on a decision by them rather than an independent decision by the inspector general.”

According to Horowitz, the FBI since 2010 has asserted that his office is not entitled to access grand jury, Title III electronic surveillance and Fair Credit Reporting Act information, citing disclosure limitations in those statutes.

Horowitz, a former white-collar partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who was confirmed as inspector general in March 2012, counters that Section 6(a) of the Inspector General Act states that IGs are to “have access to all records” in an agency’s possession.

DOJ leaders in May asked the Office of Legal Counsel to issue an opinion to resolve the dispute.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that OLC issue its opinion promptly because the existing process at the department … essentially assumes the correctness of the FBI’s legal position,” Horowitz said. Two federal district court judges in 1998 and 1999, he noted, ruled that his office could receive grand jury material.

In December 2014, Horowitz said a provision was included in the fiscal year 2015 appropriations law—Section 218—that prohibits the Justice Department from “using appropriated funds to deny, prevent, or impede the DOJ OIG’s timely access to records, documents, and other materials in the department’s possession.”

That language was not included in President Barack Obama’s 2016 proposed budget, which was released yesterday, according to Rep. , R-S.C.

Horowitz is not alone in his complaints. ., inspector general for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Kathy Buller, inspector general for the Peace Corps, testified about their issues with access to information.

“Some agencies see the inspector general as an adversary, rather than a vehicle to help the agency become more efficient and effective,” Elkins said. “It sets a tone.”

IMAGE: Michael Horowitz, Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice, testifies before the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform during a hearing titled “Inspectors General: Independence, Access and Authority.” February 3, 2015.

Credit: Library of Congress

For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/legaltimes/id=1202716891643/DOJ-Inspector-General-Says-Access-to-Information-is-Stymied#ixzz3Qmqx2esh

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