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Delaware lawmakers revive plan for inspector general’s office

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(The Center Square) — Delaware lawmakers have renewed a bipartisan push to create an independent inspector general’s office to investigate state government waste, fraud and abuse.

The legislation, if approved, would make Delaware the seventh state to create a government-wide Office of Inspector General, with full subpoena powers and the authority to investigate alleged violations of state law and the state employee code of conduct, along with other forms of mismanagement and corruption.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Woodbrook, said the move would give Delawareans “more certainty than ever that their elected officials are upholding their oaths of office and greater assurance that the state agencies tasked with working in the public interest are living up to that mission with honor and integrity.”

“Delawareans deserve a state government that holds itself to the highest ethical standards, fully adheres to the letter of the law, and never wavers in its commitment to uphold the public’s trust,” Sturgeon said in a statement. “I believe this measure will provide that oversight and, in doing so, help to preserve the public’s faith in its democratic institutions for decades to come.”

Delaware is one of only 15 states without an inspector general, which has led to criticism from the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, Delaware Press Association, and other open government advocates.

The idea of an inspector general had been proposed over the years but never gained traction. A 2013 report by former Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey highlighted Delaware’s “pay to play” political culture. It led to recommendations that the state create an inspector general’s office to help rout out corruption in government.

The bill, if approved, would create a 15-member selection panel to recommend three inspector general candidates to the governor, who would nominate someone to the Senate for consideration.

If confirmed, the inspector general would serve a five-year term to ensure the position carries over from one governor to the next, the bill’s backers say. They could be renominated to serve another term under the proposal. The plan would bar former executive branch officials, lawmakers and statewide elected officials from being nominated to the inspector general post for at least three years after they leave office.

Once the Senate confirms, the inspector general would hire a deputy inspector general and a staff member to conduct investigations, audits, or other oversight or government evaluations, according to the proposal.

Any evidence of a crime would be forwarded to the Department of Justice or other appropriate law enforcement agency for prosecution, according to the bill. The inspector general would also be empowered to initiate civil action in the courts.

“A responsible government is an accountable government. We must do all we can to ensure public officials are held to the high standard that all Delawareans expect,” said Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, a co-prime sponsor of the bill. “Having an official and agency free from electoral politics to help keep the government in check is necessary and long overdue.”

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