With Gun Rights, IG Resumes Its Cases

Posted November 20, 2009 at 5:50pm

The Library of Congress inspector general has begun to pick up old criminal cases that “languished— after the office lost its authority to carry guns and execute search warrants.

House appropriators had added a provision in the fiscal 2009 omnibus that prohibited the IG from using funds to “purchase, maintain, or carry any firearm.— The ability to carry guns, they reasoned, caused a separation of powers issue because IG officials had to be deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service in order to carry the weapons. Such an authority was also not included in the statute that created the office.

But in September, Members reversed their position and passed a legislative branch appropriations bill without the controversial provision. By the end of October, IG officials were back to investigating criminal cases.

“We’re very happy to be back in business,— IG Karl Schornagel said in a recent interview. “Obviously, we need this law enforcement authority to be able to conduct criminal investigations needed at the Library.—

The IG’s office spent about six months without the three or four Glock handguns that officials used to execute warrants. Schornagel lobbied Members during that period, arguing that investigators couldn’t conduct searches or make arrests without guns. Cases, he said, “languished.—

Many government IGs carry guns, and the Library IG deals with several criminal cases every year. Before their law enforcement authority was suspended, IG officials had investigated cases involving two gift shop cashiers who took money from the register, a human resources department employee who allegedly stole the identities of five colleagues and an employee who is facing child pornography charges.

When Congress suspended its law enforcement authority in April, IG officials were in the midst of an investigation on identity theft. Forced to drop it, they have now picked it back up and are close to making an arrest, Schornagel said.

But other cases might not be so easy to restart. The Library had handed over its criminal cases to other law enforcement agencies, which often placed the cases behind other priorities. A leak earlier this year of 6,000 Congressional Research Service reports, for example, has been largely ignored, and Schornagel said he was unsure whether the trail can be picked up.

“That one we have not gotten back to yet. It’s kind of one of these situations where there was a window of opportunity shortly after it happened,— he said. “What happens in these cases is you lose that opportunity.—

To prevent a repeat of the gun suspension, Library officials have sent draft legislation to Members that would specifically give legislative branch IGs the authority to investigate criminal cases. A similar bill passed in 2008, but it only applied to the executive branch.

“What we’re seeking is that kind of clarification,— Schornagel said, “because otherwise we are vulnerable to a challenge to our law enforcement authority.—