Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Inspector General for Metra

The Senate Committee on State Government and Veteran's Affairs took testimony on Metra reforms this morning. ICPR testified to our experiences with crafting Inspector General legislation as part of a panel that also included Andy Shaw of the BGA, David Hoffman, and Kate Pomper of BPI. ICPR's testimony is below.

Testimony of David Morrison
Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

Before the Senate Committee on State Government and Veterans Affairs
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Senator Demuzio, Members of the State Government Committee: Good morning, and thank you for having me. It is an honor and privilege to meet with you this morning to discuss ways to increase accountability and transparency at Metra, and in particular, how best to create an Inspector General. My name is David Morrison; I am the Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. I have been with ICPR for 10 years, and worked on legislation in 2002 creating an Inspector General for the Secretary of State's office, and in 2003 creating Inspectors General for the elected statewide constitutional officers. Inspectors General can play a vital role in assuring the people of the state that laws and procedures are being obeyed and that wrongdoing is being minimized, and I am delighted to see that this Committee is interested in creating statutory language to give a new Inspector General the kind of authority, protection, and resources that she or he will need to do her or his job properly.

I realize time is short today so I will briefly outline elements that contribute to a successful Inspector General. One essential element that cannot be legislated is finding a person with the character, temperament, and training to stand up for the rule of law. Broadly, what you want in an Inspector General is someone who can uncover deception and call into question acts which are or appear to be improper. While you cannot legislate the quality of person who holds the position, you can ensure that the position has the tools that an IG will need in order to do the right thing. So let me outline what you, as legislators, can do to provide for a successful IG.

(1) IGs should have the authority to act on their own initiative. An IG should not be limited to investigating only formal complaints. Where they see problems, whether in a news story, a casual conversation, or an anonymous note shoved under the door, IGs should be allowed to pursue that matter until they have identified the wrongdoing or are satisfied that no laws or procedures were violated. There should be no limitation on the form of a complaint - no requirement that it be signed, notarized, or reduced to writing - that would prohibit an IG from investigating problems that are common knowledge at an agency but that no one is willing to speak out against.

(2) IGs should have the autonomy to issue their own subpoena. The necessity of subpoena power depends in part on whom the IG will be overseeing. If they are charged only with watching over agency employees, then it may be possible to provide statutory authority to access any and all agency employees and records without delay or interference. But if the IG will be considering matters that necessarily or properly include outsiders -- former employees, job applicants, consultants, contractors, bidders on contracts, etc. -- then they must have the ability to compel the production of records, documents, and witnesses to aid in their investigation. Requiring an IG to seek approval from someone else not only delays an investigation, it risks giving notice of the investigation before the IG is ready to make it public. Autonomy is important.

(3) IGs should be appointed by someone outside of the agency where they are based. When we worked on the 2002 and 2003 laws that created Inspectors General, the ghost in the room was Dean Bauer. Dean Bauer had been appointed Inspector General by then-Secretary of State George Ryan under his authority as Secretary of State (in other words, this was not a statutory position). Bauer went on to quash investigations that might have embarrassed Ryan. More than seven dozen federal criminal convictions followed and while not all can be blamed on Bauer's actions or inactions, his duty was to stop wrongdoing and he did the opposite. Illinois' experience with Dean Bauer shows why it is so important that the IG be independent from the people he or she is charged with overseeing. While an IG should understand and even mesh with the culture of the organization in which he or she is based, it is also important that the IG be independent of the hierarchy of that organization. Dean Bauer was not able to play that independent role, despite his professional background in law enforcement, because he was too committed to the person who named him to the position.

I acknowledge that the 2002 and 2003 laws that created Inspectors General allowed for the statewide elected officials to name their own IGs, and I want to discuss that in a little more detail. The statewide elected constitutional officers were not willing, for a variety of political and policy reasons, to agree to have anyone else name the IG for their office. They are all elected in competitive, partisan elections, and their concerns, I think, boiled down to a fear that an IG with loyalties to someone else might embarrass them at election time. Nevertheless, there are protections in statute for those IGs to augment their independence. They are (1) confirmed by a 3/5 vote of the Senate, and (2) they are given terms that last longer than the office holder who appointed them, so that they will, over time, serve under officials who did not appoint them. (3) Their compensation is fixed by the Executive Ethics Commission, not the officer under whom they serve, and (4) they cannot be removed except for cause. Each of these elements provides the IG with additional autonomy despite the risk of attachment to the appointing authority. And, I would add, the Metra, and for that matter RTA, boards are not filled in partisan elections, so the policy and political reasons for allowing the statewides nominate their own IGs do not apply here.

Inspectors General serve the public by offering assurances that the agency they are watching is obeying stated rules and regulations. But it is essential that the office of the Inspector General be created in such as way that they can play that role with integrity. I applaud this committee for asking the right questions and for starting this deliberative process in a public and forthright manner, and I look forward to working with you all in order to craft a solution to the problems that now beset the RTA, Metra and its riders.

Thank you.

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