State senator introduces bipartisan effort to establish inspector general in Delaware

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 3/12/24

DOVER — Dating back to 2007, lawmakers have made several attempts to establish an Office of the Inspector General in the First State.

After recent endeavors stalled throughout the …

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State senator introduces bipartisan effort to establish inspector general in Delaware


DOVER — Dating back to 2007, lawmakers have made several attempts to establish an Office of the Inspector General in the First State.

After recent endeavors stalled throughout the legislative process, Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Woodbrook, announced Tuesday the introduction of the latest proposal to establish the nonpartisan and independent office, which is responsible for investigating state officials accused of violating public trust.

Senate Bill 21, which is being led by Sen. Sturgeon in the Senate and Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, in the House of Representatives, has already received bipartisan sponsorship from members of the General Assembly upon its introduction.

“It’s incredibly important that Delawareans have total faith and confidence in in our government,” Sen. Sturgeon told stakeholders and media members Tuesday. “But what we don’t have in Delaware, and what this bill aims to do, is an office that is fully independent, an office that does not depend upon the electorate and party politics.”

The senator added that, with Democrats holding a wide majority in the General Assembly and occupying the entirety of statewide elected positions, such an office would provide members of the public with transparency and accountability in state government.

Under Senate Bill 21, the Office of the Inspector General would be granted statutory subpoena powers to launch their own investigations regarding violations of state law and the state employee code of conduct, such as waste, fraud and abuse.

If the investigation turns up evidence of a crime, those findings would be delivered to the Department of Justice or a relevant law enforcement agency for prosecution, according to the bill. Additionally, the office would have authority to take civil action in necessary instances.

The inspector general selection process would be initiated by the Secretary of State, who would organize a 15-member panel to recommend three candidates to the governor. Once those recommendations are delivered, the governor would select his choice, which would require confirmation by the Senate.

The inspector general’s confirmation would then lead to the hiring of a deputy inspector general and qualified staff to work on investigations and audits.

The criteria for the position would be determined by the panel, Sen. Sturgeon said, though she noted that, in the six other states that have an inspector general with equivalent powers to Senate Bill 21, the office is often held by a former prosecutor.

“You’re looking for somebody with integrity, who not only knows the political process, but the legal processes … that can instill confidence in the public at large… and have faith and confidence in,” said John Flaherty, member of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government’s board of directors Tuesday.

Related to criteria, cabinet members, division directors, statewide elected officials and members of the General Assembly would not be allowed to hold the office until three years after leaving their respective post.

If the legislation becomes law, the inspector general would be assigned a five-year term to ensure overlap between gubernatorial administrations. Following the term, the officeholder could be reconfirmed or replaced contingent on the governor and selection panel’s recommendations.

The office would be required to inform complainants if they opt not to pursue the allegations and would be responsible for protecting the identity of these individuals. Additionally, the names of state employees involved in allegations would also be protected if the investigation does not substantiate the accusations.

Sen. Sturgeon said the legislation will carry a fiscal note for FY25, though it is not yet available because it was included in Tuesday’s pre-file legislation. She estimated the cost would amount to between $1.5 million and $2 million based on the 2022 version of the bill, but noted that such offices have recouped investments from their investigations.

“Oftentimes, the inspectors general in those states do find, uncover and recover waste — sometimes fraud — to the tune of much more than what it costs to run their office,” Sen. Sturgeon added.

Since the bill was filed Tuesday, Sen. Sturgeon said she has not had the opportunity to consult the office of Gov. John Carney on his support, but is hopeful that the legislation’s relatively small fiscal note can be worked through the Joint Finance Committee’s budget writing process, of which she is a member.

The most recent attempt to establish an Office of the Inspector General in Delaware came in 2022, when Sen. Sturgeon served as a co-sponsor along with Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, who is also co-sponsoring Senate Bill 21.

The proposal passed in the House Administration Committee but did not receive further consideration after being assigned to the chamber’s appropriations committee during the 151st General Assembly.

During the prior bill’s consideration, House leadership expressed concern over a duplication of efforts between the inspector general, attorney general, auditor of accounts and Public Integrity Commission. However, Senate Bill 21 directs these offices to work collaboratively.

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