GPO Watchdog Testimony Raises Concerns About the Agency

The Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) lack of permanent leadership was just one of the major issues raised at this week’s oversight hearing of the GPO Office of the Inspector General.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt kicked off the hearing by voicing concerns over shaky leadership: the agency hasn’t had a permanent director since October 2017 and has been under the leadership of Acting Deputy Director John Crawford for the last 12 months. On top of that, five of the ten GPO executive leadership team positions are vacant with employees serving in an acting capacity, according to Chairman Blunt’s remarks. 

The Chairman also noted that it’s not just the agency leadership that’s in flux; GPO Inspector General (IG) Michael Leary is the third person to hold the position in the last 16 months.

IGs are supposed to be independent watchdogs that root out waste, fraud, and abuse in the government agencies they oversee. At GPO that independence is precarious. The GPO IG is authorized under a different law than executive branch IGs, which means it does not enjoy the same protections as its executive branch counterparts. 

For example, the GPO IG is appointed by the agency Director, or in this case Acting Deputy Director, who also has the power to fire the IG. GPO leadership doesn’t have to give the IG 30 days notice before termination, unlike executive branch counterparts. As IG Leary put it:

If my boss wants to fire me, he can fire me…he doesn’t like what I said here today, I could walk back and he could walk me out.

On top of that, the GPO IG’s salary is not set codified in law the way executive branch IGs’ salaries are. This means that in a worst case scenario, GPO leaders could cut the IG’s salary in retaliation against unflattering reports. 

In his testimony Leary discussed his agents’ loss of law enforcement authority and concerns about GPO properties, but he did not touch on the allegations of cronyism and ‘wasteful’ spending at GPO. 

The agency clearly has some challenges to address. A good place to start would be for the legislative branch IGs to adopt best practices used by their executive branch counterparts