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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Lawmakers Spar Over Plan to Create Office of Inspector General

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Wisconsin could soon assign a watchdog to each state agency. The person’s job would be to guard against government waste and fraud.

Some Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would set up an Office of Inspector General. It would employ more than a dozen new hires who would fan out among departments. The proposal is divisive.

Wisconsin spends $70 billion every two years to operate state government. Republican Rep. David Craig says that’s a lot of money, so he’s authored a bill that would create an Office of Inspector General. Craig says its inspectors would continuously watch each agency for waste, fraud and abuse of public resources.

“The program would be funded using already appropriated funds and I have little doubt that this investment in government oversight will more than pay for itself in taxpayer savings,” Craig says.

Craig thinks if his plan had been in place a few years ago, it would have prevented the widespread problems that have surfaced in Gov. Walker’s economic development agency, WEDC. It came under fire after audits revealed mismanagement, including failure to track millions of dollars in past due loans.

“One of the things I told my constituents when I was elected four years ago is that we needed to engage in more legislative oversight of the executive branch,” Craig says.

Under Craig’s bill, Republicans who control the Legislature would appoint a dozen inspectors to six-year terms. In Democratic Rep. Jonathan Brostoff’s opinion, the bill would do nothing more than create a costly, additional layer of bureaucracy.

“It’s a way to actually gum up the works a lot when it comes to regulatory issues, protecting our environment and other assets. It’s creating a much more expensive and hard process than the one we have now,” Brostoff says.

The system the state uses now, is that when lawmakers get wind of agency inefficiencies or problems, the Legislative Audit Bureau investigates.

Brostoff serves on the Assembly committee on State Affairs and Government Operations. It held a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. One person who testified against the measure is Matt Rothschild of the government watchdog group, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. He fears the new office might encourage the harassment of certain agencies, such as the UW-System or Department of Public Instruction.

“It gives the leaders of the parties in both chambers, which are both Republicans now, the power to pick an Inspector General in each department and then to supervise that Inspector General. So, they could just be bossing one of their lackeys around essentially, and telling them to wreak havoc in departments that are doing things that they don’t like,” Rothschild says.

The committee is expected to act on the bill at a later date.

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