WASHINGTON (AP) — Internal watchdogs at federal agencies worry that a hiring freeze imposed by the Trump administration could put their oversight mission at risk, threatening their ability to detect and prevent waste, fraud and abuse, a new survey says.
The survey of two dozen inspectors general found that nearly all reported that the hiring freeze negatively affects their operations. Many said the hiring freeze, coupled with proposed budget cuts, could degrade their ability to prevent fraud and abuse, the survey said.
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released the survey results Thursday as they continued to criticize President Donald Trump, who proposed the government-wide hiring freeze in January. Trump's proposed budget for 2018 would cut spending for inspectors general amid widespread agency reductions.
"With Republicans now in control of the White House, Senate and House, inspectors general are one of the last backstops the American people have to prevent waste, fraud and abuse at federal agencies," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the oversight panel.
The new survey "demonstrates that the president's restrictions on hiring will harm the American people by preventing IGs from carrying out their vital mission," Cummings said.
Inspectors general are internal watchdogs who conduct audits of federal agencies and investigate complaints of wrongdoing. The position is considered nonpartisan, although about half of the 70-plus inspectors general are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The rest are appointed by agency chiefs.
Democrats complained in January that Trump's transition team threatened to remove as many as eight inspectors general from their posts. The threats were later withdrawn amid complaints from lawmakers and the inspectors general.
Trump has withdrawn nominations of inspectors general for the Defense Department, Office of Personnel Management and National Security Agency.
The Treasury Department inspector general told congressional staffers that the hiring freeze "will put Treasury at risk of increased fraud and other criminal activity," Democrats said. The watchdog at the Environmental Protection Agency reported that budget cuts "will degrade our ability to safeguard scarce taxpayer resources and compromise our effectiveness in addressing complaints and inquiries from ... Congress and the American people," the survey said.