Commentary: Delaware inspector general would provide oversight of state agencies

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Transparency, accountability and “in the public interest” describe essential guideposts to assist Delaware state agencies and their officials when making decisions and carrying out policies for the well-being, safety and happiness of Delaware’s citizens.

When state agencies dismiss these guideposts, misconduct, mismanagement and neglect of office can swiftly lead to conflicting policies and actions and even fraud. Consequently, the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DelCOG) believes we need an independent, nonpartisan office for oversight and investigation of state agencies to enhance public trust in our government — that is, a Delaware Office of the State Inspector General.

There are perceptions that numerous problems — such as widespread water and aquifer pollution; environmental and social justice issues; questionable property sales and leases; uncertain grants and loans; disruption of public transportation for low-income residents and minorities; and risks to the health and safety of incarcerated persons and employees — could be the result of state agency mismanagement, neglect of office or influence by special interests.

Detrimental policies and actions — and in some cases, inaction — can be the result of deep-rooted, counterproductive characteristics, such as influence by special and political interests, conflicts of interest, quid pro quo, cronyism, misstatements of facts and a lack of concern and disregard for our environment, our citizens and our workforce.

Exercising authority to oversee and investigate state agencies and state-funded entities for compliance with their mission and with state laws, an independent, nonpartisan Delaware inspector general and staff will 1.) mandate that government agencies act in the public interest and conduct agency affairs with honesty, integrity and rectitude; 2.) evaluate and investigate state agency deficiencies to address questionable policies and to deter/stop fraud, abuse, waste, misconduct, mismanagement and neglect of office; 3.) hold agency officials ethically and legally accountable — for actions or, in some cases, inactions — to the principles described in Delaware’s oath of office and Code of Conduct; 4.) recommend legal action of official misconduct if laws are broken, as described in the Delaware Criminal Code; 5.) respond to alerts by resident and state employee whistleblowers and investigate cited problems; 6.) recommend changes to state laws and policies to help rectify systemic problems; 7.) save state taxpayer money (inspectors general have a history of reducing waste and costly mismanagement errors that are far in excess of the cost to fund the office; and 8.) provide intangible benefits by motivating state agencies to function in the best interests of all Delawareans.

An inspector general can act in concert with the offices of the attorney general and the state auditor. A state office of inspector general, promoting ethical and legal behavior and stopping agency mismanagement and abuse of office, would fill a void in Delaware state government.

It is important to note that citing agency mismanagement is not a wholesale condemnation of the many Delaware state employees who serve with integrity and dedication. But when state agencies fail in their missions, exceed their boundaries or ignore their inherent responsibilities, the public has the right to demand solutions and expect them to be implemented.

Two-thirds of all states and the District of Columbia have offices of the inspector general. In Florida, every state agency is assigned its own inspector general, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Corrections.

In 2007, the Delaware House of Representatives introduced House Bill 155 to create an Office of the State Inspector General. HB 155 passed in the Delaware House but died in the Senate. Seven sponsors of HB 155 remain in the Delaware General Assembly: Sens. Dave Sokola, D-Newark; Colin Bonini, R-Dover; Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna; and Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View; along with Reps. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington; John Kowalko, D-Newark; and Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere. Their leadership and that of other members of the General Assembly is needed now to advance and pass legislation for an Office of Inspector General.

Because the chronic and unresolved problems cited above are antithetical to Delaware’s ethical and legal directives and warrant oversight, investigation and remediation, DelCOG is engaged in community outreach for grassroots support for an independent, nonpartisan Delaware Office of the State Inspector General.

Nick Wasileski is president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government. Keith Steck is vice president and chair of the DelCOG Inspector General Committee. Katherine Ward is a member of the DelCOG Advisory Board and its Inspector General Committee. More information can be found at www.delcog.org

 

Editor’s note: A March 16 commentary mentioned the inspector general bill, and DelCOG is clarifying that its bill does not address oversight of the General Assembly but rather oversight of executive branch state agencies..