More transparency and accountability are needed in government, say officials who gathered April 24 to talk about creating a new inspector general position.
Hosted by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government and the Delaware Press Association, a panel discussed the need for a Delaware Inspector General to investigate issues of corruption, waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the state government.
Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Wilmington, said she supports sponsoring a bill to bring more accountability to the state. “There have been a few scandals that have hit some of our elected branches,” she said.
When it happens, she said, there is no one officials can turn to in order to investigate.
“It would be nice to know there is somewhere we could go to with concerns, so it doesn’t fall on us to do investigations,” she said.
Rep. Michael Smith, R-Pike Creek, said he worked on an inspector general bill last session to bring about more transparency, and he plans to continue working this session.
“There hasn’t been a one-stop shop for waste, fraud, abuse, accountability,” he said. “I thought this is the best way to go.”
Smith said last year’s bill ran into a roadblock in the appropriations committee over issues related to cost. “We were given no wiggle room,” he said.
Sturgeon said an inspector general may cost about $1 million per year to keep an office running, which she considers a good deal.
“It has the potential to save the state money, if there are indications that money is wasted,” she said. “I feel that it would pay for itself.”
Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street said he has subpoena power with the ability to get to records faster than the often drawn-out process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request for information. “This absolutely will pay dividends to your state,” he said.
Street said his office has jurisdiction over the Attorney General’s Office, executive branch, public universities and anybody who does business with those entities.
Smith said subpoena power and authority over universities and state government would be included in a new bill, while avoiding duplicating efforts with the auditor’s office or other investigative offices. Sturgeon said the position would be appointed, not elected, and would be chosen by a bipartisan group, then approved by the governor and Senate. “That’s a lot of layers to make sure the person is a high-quality, highly trusted individual,” she said.
Because the position is appointed, Sturgeon said, the inspector general would be able to remain independent and unbiased throughout a five-year term.
Sturgeon said she expects to introduce the bill by mid-May, and she is gathering support from Senate leadership. Smith said he hopes the bill can get to the House floor for a vote, and he looks forward to a healthy debate.
John Kowalko III with Delaware Coalition for Open Government said he encourages bipartisan support for an inspector general bill, and he encourages people to reach out to their legislators for support.
The event was also sponsored by Common Cause Delaware, Delaware Poor People's Campaign, Delaware Public Preschool Coalition, League of Women Voters of New Castle County, Lead-Free Delaware, Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, Network Delaware, New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists and RISE Delaware.