The state Inspector General’s Office, described by its chief as the only public agency to focus solely on government corruption, could be saved by the state’s upper chamber following a House vote to strip the office of its funding.
Established in 1988 by former Gov. Buddy Roemer, the state Inspector General’s Office is a bona fide law enforcement agency that investigates fraud and misconduct within local and state public agencies. It’s headed by current IG Stephen Street.
It was the state Inspector General’s Office that investigated the case of former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter, who resigned in August 2010 after the IG’s office accused him of using his position to access confidential law enforcement databases and obtain information on numerous public figures.
Street’s office also played a large role in the investigation of Randy Zinna, the Baton Rouge attorney charged with stealing roughly $1.6 million from a police retirement system, a local government retirement system and an 83-year-old widow.
Gov. Bobby Jindal successfully pushed to make the office a permanent agency when he took office in 2008, but the Louisiana House this week backed a proposal by state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, to strip the $1.7 million in IG funding from the $25 billion state budget that advanced to the Senate.
Lawmakers in favor of eliminating Street’s office argue that the IG’s role is repetitive, as State Police, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Legislative Auditor’s Office already investigate government misconduct.
Supporters of the IG’s office, which include the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, contend that “the state needs a self-motivated watchdog agency to stop waste, mismanagement, abuse and fraud in executive-branch government.”
When Street pleaded with a Senate committee Thursday, The Advocate reports that the response was much warmer in the upper chamber than in the fiscally divided House:
No serious promises were made at the committee meeting Thursday about funding, but the mood was decidedly friendly, with legislators teasing Street.
State Sen. Eric LaFleur, joked that the state Senate has a better atmosphere than the House.
“It’s the House that cut your budget ... I want you to know that the Senate’s going to put your money back,” said LaFleur, D-Ville Platte.
Read more on the IG’s office here