OPINION

Kowalko: Coalition expresses need for a Delaware inspector general

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John Kowalko III is president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government.

The litany of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement seemingly never ends in the First State!

With the embezzlement of $181,000 from the unemployment insurance trust fund in 2023, to the lack of fully reporting the embezzlement to the public by the Department of Finance, the Department of Labor and the office of the auditor of accounts more than a year later, to the current lawsuit over the alleged harassment of and retaliation against a Department of Insurance employee, it could not be more clear that Delaware needs an Office of the Inspector General.

The office would have authority for oversight and investigation of state agencies, and divisions for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. Delaware could have used such an office in the past and would benefit from such an office today. So, why doesn’t Delaware have an OIG?

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 21, a bipartisan bill to create the Office of the Inspector General, was introduced March 12. In mid-April, the Senate Executive Committee quickly and unanimously released SS 1 for SB 21, and it went on to the Senate Finance Committee. But progress on the bill came to a screeching halt, and the bill still has not seen the light of day.

The bill has floundered in the Senate Finance Committee and Joint Finance Committee — both chaired by Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover — for almost two months. Why? What’s the holdup? What will it take to get the OIG bill passed?

Considering all the monetary giveaways, Delaware has plenty of resources to fund the office, not to mention — as is usually the case where such offices exist — the office will pay for itself. Thus, a lack of funds is no excuse.

Does the reason go deeper?

Is the reason an ingrained fear by some state officials that an inspector general would open the floodgates on other, yet-to-be-discovered or hidden misbehaviors in the bowels of our state agencies?

Is the reason that the office’s whistleblower protection provisions would encourage the disclosure of more state agency wrongdoing and mismanagement issues?

Or is the reason a lack of support by the executive branch, under whose leadership it appears that addressing fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in state agencies never was a priority?

An advantage our state government seemingly fails to recognize is that an inspector general's office takes much of the burden of addressing state problems off its back and places the responsibility on the office.

For example, if the current embezzlement issue had been handled by an OIG, the failure to disclose the embezzlement, the finger pointing by the public and the state offices’ excuses for not following Delaware statutes would have been eliminated. The responsibility largely would rest on the oversight and investigative role of the Office of the Inspector General and its reports to various authorities, state offices and the public.

“The ship has sailed” on any argument that an existing Delaware state office can function as an independent and nonpartisan inspector general. With current news media reports at the forefront, there is no argument contrary to the need for such an office that holds water.

Delaware needs an Office of the Inspector General, and the recent drumbeat of state problems justifies creating this office — and the sooner the better.

Citizens of Delaware, go to delcog.org/oig for the steps you can take to speak up, call or write to your legislators to demand passage of SS 1 for SB 21 before the end of this legislative session June 30.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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