Senators Say Library Is Hindering Inspectors

Posted October 20, 2010 at 6:38pm

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have sent a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington disapproving of the Library’s interference with the work of its inspector general.

Among the issues they raised, Finance ranking member Grassley and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations ranking member Coburn said they were troubled that the agency’s general counsel instructs employees that they must report theft of Library property to the Capitol Police. However, reporting theft to the Library’s own inspector general is optional. ‘When will the agency regulation be changed?’ the Senators asked.

The letter comes after they solicited feedback in April from Library Inspector General Karl Schornagel and inspectors general from dozens of government agencies about whether they are able to carry out investigations unimpeded. Schornagel was one of 13 inspectors general to report back with problems.

In his June 15 response, Schornagel said the general counsel established ‘exceedingly narrow interpretations of our authority to conduct investigations,’ including not requiring employees to report thefts to him.

In an interview, Schornagel said he knows of no thefts from the Library since the 1990s, although there have been several attempted thefts, some even by Library employees, of which the Capitol Police is regularly notified.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said she has not seen the Senators’ letter. However, the department has established a ‘liaison relationship’ with the Library inspector general ‘regarding matters of mutual concern,’ she said.

But Schornagel said the relationship leaves the inspector general’s office wanting.

‘We’re not getting that information on a consistent basis from the police,’ he said. ‘Sometimes they’re late and I’m not sure all of the reports are shared.’

The correspondence resuscitates a long-standing jurisdictional overlap that still has not been resolved since the Library’s police force merged with the Capitol’s in 2008.

The inspector general’s office traditionally has been in charge of investigating the thefts. When the Capitol Police took the Library into its area of coverage, it began to share that responsibility, too.

‘We are actually in some ways in a better position to do those investigations because my agents are deputized U.S. marshals,’ Schornagel said, meaning they can operate across state lines while Capitol Police have no authority off Capitol Hill.

But since the inspector general was not included in merger talks between the two agencies, the overlap was not pre-emptively dealt with ‘ another issue with which the Senators took exception.

The inspector general’s office ‘has been forced to attempt to iron out jurisdictional and operational concerns between themselves and the [Capitol Police] unnecessarily,’ the Senators’ letter reads.

Library spokesman Matt Raymond says the agency does not comment on correspondence with Members. But a Grassley aide said the Senators will evaluate Billington’s response and act accordingly.

‘We certainly have every right to talk to our colleagues on the committees of jurisdiction if we feel we don’t have an adequate answers,’ he said.

But they’ll get no sympathy from the House Administration Committee, which oversees the Capitol Police ‘ at least not on the jurisdictional overlap.

‘We’re perplexed by the [inspector general’s] concerns on this issue,’ committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said. The Capitol Police ‘is the relevant law enforcement agency for the Library of Congress. The committee is confident in the [department’s] ability to appropriately and effectively exercise its investigative and enforcement responsibilities.’

Spokesmen for the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch, which oversee Capitol Police and Library budgets, did not return requests for comment.

This is the second time Grassley has injected himself into the dealings of the Library’s inspector general. Known as a proponent of whistle-blowers and inspectors general rights, Grassley sent a letter in June 2009 to Billington listing several instances where he thought Library officials were out of line, including e-mails and memos in which they questioned the language and harshness of certain IG reports.

At the time, Grassley didn’t directly mention the one issue at the forefront of the controversy: a provision in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that stripped the inspector general’s office of its ability to purchase, maintain and carry firearms.

Though the privilege has since been returned, the Senators in their October letter also asked that Billington send then the general counsel’s November 2008 legal opinion on the matter, which ‘reportedly contained inaccuracies.’