Inspector general bill introduced in Senate

Office would serve as an independent watchdog, legislators say
March 16, 2024

Senate Bill 21 would create a nonpartisan agency capable of investigating and initiating civil proceedings against state officials accused of violating the public’s trust. The office would also issue public opinion, said primary sponsor Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Greenville. The bill is cosponsored by Sen. Russ Huxtable, D-Lewes.

“Delawareans deserve a state government that holds itself to the highest ethical standards, fully adheres to the letter of the law, and never wavers in its commitment to uphold the public’s trust,” Sturgeon said in a statement.

Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, also threw his support behind the bill as co-prime sponsor of the bill.

“A responsible government is an accountable government. We must do all we can to ensure public officials are held to the high standard that all Delawareans expect,” he said. “Creating the Office of the Inspector General would do just that. Having an official and agency free from electoral politics to help keep the government in check is necessary and long overdue.” 

If passed, the secretary of state would be required to convene a 15-member selection panel to recommend three inspector general candidates to the governor, who would nominate one for Senate confirmation. 

The inspector general’s term would last five years to ensure the position carries over from one governor to the next. At the end of term, the inspector general position would either be reconfirmed or the position refilled, depending on the recommendation of the selection panel and the nomination of the governor. 

No statewide public office holder, member of the General Assembly, cabinet secretary or division director would be eligible to hold the office of inspector general for at least three years after they leave office, the bill states.

Once confirmed by the Senate, the bill states the inspector general would hire a deputy inspector general and a staff qualified in conducting investigations, audits or other forms of oversight or government evaluation. 

The Office of Inspector General would be required to maintain a statewide toll-free number, a collect telephone number, a website, an email address and a mailing address for receiving complaints of fraud, waste, mismanagement, corruption or other abuses of government resources that harm the public interest. The Office of Inspector General would be required to notify a complainant if it opts not to pursue a complaint, the bill states.. 

Officials said Delaware is one of 15 states without an inspector general, and if the bill passes, Delaware would become the seventh state to create a government-wide Office of Inspector General with full subpoena powers, the authority to investigate alleged violations of state law and the state employee code of conduct, along with other forms of mismanagement and corruption. 

Any evidence of a crime would be forwarded to the Department of Justice or other appropriate law enforcement agencies for prosecution, but the bill empowers the Office of Inspector General to initiate a civil action in the courts on its own. 

The bill requires the Office of Inspector General to work with the Department of Justice, auditor of accounts and the Public Integrity Commission so watchdog groups are not duplicating efforts.

The identity of complainants is protected under the bill, and names of state employees would be protected if an investigation finds no instances of wrongdoing. 

The bill awaits action in the Senate Executive Committee.


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