State Republicans Propose Moving Watchdog Agencies To Judicial Branch

The House and Senate Republicans released their own budget proposal today, called the “Blueprint for Prosperity.”  As a lawyer with a strong interest in open government, page 21 of the report caught my eye.  It contains a section entitled “Safeguarding Connecticut’s Watchdog Agencies.” The section states:

When the Office of Governmental Accountability (OGA) was created four years ago it was intended to give small agencies back office support and therefore give the state consolidation savings. Recently, the director of OGA indicated that she answers only to the governor, which raises some serious questions about her oversight of agencies that must operate unbiased and free from the influence of the governor’s office. Republicans expressed concerns early on that the merging of the state’s critical and sensitive watchdog agencies under a gubernatorial appointee could be problematic. That possibility has materialized more than once with questions of impropriety.

The Office of State Ethics, the State Elections Enforcement Commission and the Freedom of Information Commission are critical to ensure that the state operates in a manner that is consistent with state law. There should never be an occasion where Connecticut citizens are left wondering if their governor is exerting undue influence over their normal course of business. Nor should one question the propriety of the state’s election processes. Therefore, we are recommending to consolidate the state’s watchdog agencies currently under OGA by moving them to a new Office of the Inspector General under the Judicial Branch. We also recommend transforming the remaining agencies under OGA into a SmART team, eliminating 5 positions.

I strongly favor greater independence for the watchdog agencies, but I’m not sure that moving them to a new Office of the Inspector General in the Judicial Branch is the right answer.  My preference would be to restore their status as stand-alone agencies in the Executive Branch or, at a minimum, to clarify the law concerning the Executive Director of the OGA.

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