Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" - Who watches the Watchmen?

Who watches the Watchmen?  This eternal question of power and government could not be more important for the safety and freedom of the American People than today.

In a Police Department it is the Office of Internal Affairs (IA) who 'watches the watchmen'. They are responsible for ensuring that the department-as-a-whole complies with all applicable rules, regulations, and laws, from the Chief of Police down through the ranks to the newest Rookie.  If someone breaks the rules then Internal Affairs is tasked with holding them accountable, and as a consequence, a strong and objective IA can be - very broadly speaking - generally disliked by both the rank and file and the brass.  Human Nature does not like being held accountable because it's uncomfortable and embarrassing.  But when an IA Office becomes corrupted, when they look the other way from wrongdoing for their friends or creatively misconstrue facts to punish enemies, it is the Public that ultimately suffers.  Bad Officers who abuse their powers are allowed to continue menacing the Public, and The Little Guy suffers for it.

In our State and Federal Governments it is the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) who is responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse by government officials.  This office has always been rife with controversy because it lives on the knife edge of the balance of powers between the branches of government.  Legislatures enact the laws that give the OIG it's oversight authority and the OIG reports to them, but it is the Executive who actually hires and pays the OIG and who physically holds the information that the OIG must access to perform their investigatory duties. --  I don't think I can over-stress just how important the office is to normal people, people who don't have the power to independently protect themselves from a rogue government that might allow dangerous situations to manifest that endanger ordinary peoples lives (Flint MI water crises), or allow unjust procedures to exist that endanger people's liberty (Ferguson MO Police Department).  It is vital to our own well-being that OIGs remain un-politicized, non-partisan, and robustly protected.

There's a lot of politically un-plugged people in America today.  A minority of the public actually votes, which I believe is a sign of a crumbling Democracy, and even fewer people actually pay attention to bills, laws, and court rulings.  Outside the privilege that some are born with, it is the OIGs who provide that security which allows those people not to pay attention, not to care what the government does, because the OIG does that for them.

But right now this Presidential Administration is gutting OIGs across the face of the federal government.  It is true that an Executive has the authority to fire an OIG, but it is not completely an absolute power.  In the legislation that creates those offices, some OIGs can only be fired "For Cause", which is to say there has to be some rational reason for the firing.  Sometimes the generic "Lost the Confidence of the Executive" will suffice, but this is not always the case.  If an OIG is being fired to cover up wrongdoing, that is an Obstruction of Justice. It is the willful misuse of Government Power for Personal Gain.  It is antithetical to the principles of Democracy.

I urge my politically un-plugged countrymen and women to do some research into these recent OIG firings by this Administration.  Because in America it *IS* possible that *YOUR* drinking water can be contaminated and you wouldn't know it, or that the COVID-19 tests the government procured don't actually work, or that evidence won't actually be required to put you into jail or take your property from you, or that dams, bridges, and other infrastructure, can be allowed to deteriorate to the point of catastrophic failure and kill you.  This is not fear-mongering, these things have happened and are happening right now.

If any of this sparks concern in you, you are welcome to reach out to me with questions or for more information.

"The Watchfulness of the Citizen is the Salvation of the State" - Hartley Burr Alexander