Inspector General’s office ‘scares’ lawmakers

New agency needs money to establish its office, but lawmakers are concerned the office has too much power

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— The man charged with finding fraud, waste and abuse in state government says he needs $530,000 to hire five investigators -- but state lawmakers are hesitant to give it to him because they are concerned it might give him too much power.

“Your office scares me,” Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, told Inspector General Patrick Maley on Tuesday. “I get concerned about little entities growing and having autonomy and not a hell of a lot of oversight, and the next thing you know there are witch hunts all over the place.”

Inspector General Patrick Maley started work in June after the previous inspector general, George Schroeder, resigned because he said he did not have enough independence to run the office effectively.

Gov. Nikki Haley then signed a law that made the Inspector General’s office a separate state agency with its own budget. In June, Haley appointed Maley, a 30-year FBI veteran, to the post. Maley is his own boss, his only requirement that he write a report once a year to the governor and the state legislature about what he has been doing.

Maley has been working rent-free out of an office at the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. He inherited three employees and funding from the governor’s office.

Now, Maley is making his first budget request to make his office truly independent. And he is doing it in a year that lawmakers plan to make big improvements to the state’s ethics reform laws.

“I’ve got to have a sufficient presence so that people sense that somebody is looking under the hood,” Maley said. “I think a big part of the Inspector General’s role is to ... bring issues to light at a sufficient rate and significance so that the rest of government can look and say, ‘Hey, maybe we need to look at ourselves.”

But when asked if Maley will get the money he said he needs, Merrill said “I don’t know. We’re going to have to think about it.”

“I know what they are trying to achieve, and I think that’s good, but I’m really kind of scared giving someone that much power,” he said. “He doesn’t report to anyone.”

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the only Democrat on the committee, said she supports giving Maley the money to hire the investigators.

“But I want to make sure there is clarity on who he answers to and that he is indeed autonomous,” she said. “Obviously he has to answer to somebody. I mean, come on. This is government.”

Since taking over in June, Maley said he has received about 100 complaints on the inspector general’s hotline. He said he referred most of those complaints back to the state agencies to handle. But he launched investigations into three of them -- including a look into computer security standards across state government after a hacker stole millions of taxpayers’ personal information from the state Department of Revenue.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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