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Committee Chairmen Demand Briefing after Inadequate Response from Commerce Inspector General

December 04,2019

Washington
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Roger Wicker
(R-Miss.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), respectively chairmen of the Senate
Finance, Commerce and Government Affairs Committees, are together seeking more
fulsome answers in response to an August letter from Senator Grassley which
raised concerns about staff departures, low morale and low productivity at the
Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The joint letter was
prompted by a response from the Inspector General on September
27
, which failed to answer some of Chairman Grassley’s questions.

“The
U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the expenditure of billions of taxpayer
dollars every year and performs a variety of critical functions related to our
nation’s economic growth and development…,” the senators wrote. “We believe that a strong and effective
Commerce OIG is necessary to ensuring proper oversight of the Department and
its functions.”

In August of this year, Grassley requested information about OIG’s
organizational structure, employment statistics, budget requests, documents
regarding human resources challenges and information about recent corrective
action and steps taken to improve the problems. These requests were based on
concerns raised by nearly a dozen whistleblowers and a recent
government-conducted survey which showed that the OIG had some of the lowest
levels of employee satisfaction in the federal government and indicated a
consistent, year-over-year decline the past several years. Additionally, the
OIG’s most recent semiannual reports to Congress have shown declining levels of
productivity.

In
their letter this week, the chairmen push for more fulsome responses to
questions and document requests. They also seek a staff briefing directly from
the inspector general’s office by December 13.

Full
text of the letter from Chairmen Grassley, Wicker and Johnson follows or can be
found HERE.

 

The
Honorable Peggy E. Gustafson

Inspector
General

U.S.
Department of Commerce

1401
Constitution Ave N.W.

Washington, DC 20230

 Dear Inspector General Gustafson:

            As the Chairmen of the undersigned
committees, we share the concerns raised in Senator Grassley’s August 20, 2019,
letter to you. [1]  At this point, staff from our committees have
had the opportunity to review your response dated September 27, 2019, and the
supporting documentation that you provided.

Based
on this review, it appears that your September 27 response fails to fully address
all of the questions posed in Senator Grassley’s letter.  The information provided does not include
enough context for us to determine the root causes of the leadership, staffing,
and morale problems that are prevalent at Commerce OIG, nor does it include
enough detail for us to determine the timing and extent of your efforts to
address these problems. 

The
U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the expenditure of billions of taxpayer
dollars every year and performs a variety of critical functions related to our
nation’s economic growth and development.  This includes oversight of the 2020 Census,
the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariff exclusion process, and federal
agencies’ use of electromagnetic spectrum.  We believe that a strong and effective
Commerce OIG is necessary to ensuring proper oversight of the Department and
its functions.

            At this time, we request that you provide
full answers to the questions posed in Senator Grassley’s August 20 letter to
you and contact us  no later than December
13, 2019, to schedule a time when you can come to brief our Committee staffs. 

 

If
you have any questions, please contact Daniel Boatright or Daniel Parker of the
Senate Committee on Finance at (202) 224-4515.

Sincerely,

 

-30-


[1] Letter from Sen. Charles E.
Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on Fin., to Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector Gen.,
U.S. Dep’t of Commerce (Aug. 20, 2019), https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-08-20%20CEG%20to%20Commerce%20OIG%20(morale).pdf. See also Letter from Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector Gen., U.S. Dep’t
of Commerce, to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, S. Comm. on Fin. (Sept. 3,
2019) (on file with Committee) (responding to Senator Grassley’s August 20
letter).


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