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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Deal clears way for bill giving IGs greater independence

House and Senate negotiators and the White House have reached agreement on a bill intended to increase the independence of inspectors general, clearing the way for probable passage of the measure before Congress adjourns.

Senate supporters hoped the measure would be taken up Wednesday under a unanimous consent agreement, although delay was possible. The House is expected to take up the measure as one of a series of bills considered under suspension, most likely Thursday.

Agreement on the bill follows months of discussions aimed at reconciling a stronger House bill with a Senate measure while heading off opposition from the White House and some Senate Republicans. Talks picked up in recent weeks, with the House largely accepting several tweaks in the Senate bill aimed at the addressing White House concerns, aides said. The bill was first drafted by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who has pushed it for years.

The final bill omits a provision backed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., that would have shifted certain responsibilities for overseeing Justice Department lawyers from the department's Office of Professional Responsibility to the inspector general's office. Conyers has backed Justice IG Glenn Fine's assertion that his office is better suited for those tasks because it is independent from the department, but Republicans opposed the measure.

Though the bill was still being finalized Wednesday, House negotiators appear to have dropped a provision limiting IGs to seven-year terms and accepted a watered-down version of a provision mandating the IGs can only be fired for cause.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who worked with the White House on the bill, won inclusion in the Senate bill of language allowing the president to temporarily suspend IGs, regardless of the cause provision.

An administration official said the White House dropped a veto threat due to those changes and because lawmakers agreed to drop language that would have allowed IGs to submit budget requests directly to Congress.

-Dan Friedman, GovExec.com

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