Inspectors general are the government's in-house watchdogs, the ones with power to find and stop wrongdoing within their agencies.
The proposal to have them picked by the White House comes at a time when many inspectors general jobs remain unfilled, according to a review by the Center for Public Integrity. The financial bill, which includes the change, is being debated by the Senate.
The inspectors general who would be subject to the new proposal would include those at the Federal Reserve, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, National Credit Union Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. These watchdogs are currently hired by the head of each agency and report to the Board of Directors. They are not subject to the Senate confirmation process.
Supporters of the provision say a presidentially-appointed inspector general would be more independent, but the proposal has "raised a red flag," said Center for Public Integrity reporter John Solomon, who first raised the issue in a report last week.
Thirty-three of 73 total inspectors general are appointed by the president, including at the CIA and State Department. But more than half are independent, including the one for the SEC, and making them political appointees could compromise the credibility of their findings, Solomon said.
For example, SEC inspector general David Kotz is investigating whether the Obama White House and Democratic lawmakers may have put undue pressure on SEC regulators to delay the announcement of major regulatory action against Goldman Sachs.
If Kotz becomes a political appointee as a result of this provision, many people may find his investigation less trustworthy.
"He [Kotz] said to me very frankly, I'm going to become a lame duck, and won't be able to pursue what has become a very politically-charged investigation," Solomon said.
The other concern is the length of time it would take to appoint the inspectors general. At least 15 of the 73 inspectors general, chief auditors or whistleblower protection jobs across government are vacant or are being covered by acting officials, according to a Center for Public Integrity review.
If it has taken so long to appoint people to all these posts, adding five more to the list would just add to the backlog, critics say.
The provision came from an inspector general oversight and accountability bill drafted by Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. Larson's office says the proposal was put forth well before Kotz began his Goldman investigation, and it is designed to make the watchdogs more independent and take them out from underneath the jurisdiction of the agency they are supposed to investigate.
In the Senate bill, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has proposed an amendment to the rule that aims to change the reporting structure of all 73 inspectors general.
Under Grassley's amendment, inspectors general who are not political appointees would be required to report to the entire Board of Directors, rather than just the head or the commissioner. Additionally, it would take two-thirds of the board to remove the inspector general.