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Bill to create Inspector General’s Office in Delaware advances out of committee

 From: ABC 47 News 

DOVER, Del.- Delaware is one step closer to having an inspector general’s office, following a bipartisan effort in the legislature to increase accountability and make sure fraud and abuse are caught.

A measure to create an independent office to investigate wrongdoing in state agencies as well as in civil cases passed from the Delaware House administrative committee.

Lawmakers say the office will be free from political influence and help to protect whistleblowers who come forward to keep public officials accountable.

“What we need is a central focal point where people can go and say I witnessed a crime or some wrongdoing you may want to look into,” said bill sponsor John Kowalko.

“When agencies put in less than their best effort that’s when we need this kind of scrutiny and oversight,” he said.

The bill is receiving bipartisan support with republican Rep. Mike Smith voicing his support at the hearing, after introducing a similar piece of legislation. He called passing the vote a matter of restoring public confidence in their government.

“When you look at the differences, we have the commonalities of our good governance transparency and the public trust and for that, I will ask you to push this bill out of committee,” he said.

While the bill is receiving support from both political parties, lawmakers are stressing the importance of the office remaining a political, being an appointed office rather than an elected one, with term limits and a bipartisan approval process for nominees and staffers.

Advocates for open government including Common Cause Delaware say the language will help to make sure any investigations the office conducts are not politically motivated.

“It is vitally important they be appointed rather than elected and for s et term so it can be independent of the political parties and process and we can know it’s an impartial watchdog,” said Common Cause Delaware spokeswoman Claire Snyder-Hall.

Disagreements in the committee centered around the oversight and jurisdiction of the bill, with lawmakers calling into question who would have authority over cases if the IG’s office launched an investigation parallel to other agencies.

Representative Kowalko said he will be meeting with the Delaware AG to make sure the language in the bill affirms the jurisdiction of the IG’s investigators, and keep them independent of any other agency’s chain of command.

“It’s not just independent because it’s not elected or bipartisan it is independent because it has no one influencing the ultimate judgments made by the inspector general the path is cleared for them to do their work,” he said.