It was more than a tad ironic that former Congressman Bill Jefferson reported to federal prison the same week the state House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Office of State Inspector General (OSIG) — the only entity devoted exclusively to preventing and exposing waste, fraud and corruption in Louisiana government.
Ironic, but also perhaps totally fitting, given Louisiana's history of political corruption.
One would think that Jefferson's spectacular fall from grace and his banishment to the federal pokey would serve as a cautionary tale for Louisiana pols, particularly given that "Dollar Bill" got his start in the state Legislature.
Two days before Jefferson started serving his 13-year prison term for racketeering, bribery and other acts of corruption, the House Appropriations Committee voted 11-4 to defund the OSIG starting July 1. The main argument in support of the committee's decision no doubt would have appealed to Jefferson, who claimed the bribes he received were merely business payments unrelated to his "official acts" as a congressman.
With equal pretense, 11 state representatives agreed last week that the OSIG is "redundant" because the state attorney general, the State Police and the Legislative Auditor do the same thing.
No, they don't.
For starters, the inspector general's office is accessible to citizens. Its mission also sets it apart. That mission is "to help prevent and detect waste, mismanagement, abuse, fraud and corruption in the executive branch of state government without regard to partisan politics, allegiances, status or influence."
The Attorney General's office, on the other hand, is the state's primary legal office. It litigates and opines — but only elected officials can request an official opinion from that office. The AG's office does have a consumer protection division, but it pursues private businesses that rip off consumers, not state agencies that misspend taxpayers' money.
The State Police, meanwhile, are charged with law enforcement and public safety. The agency also supervises gaming, which is where most if not all of its auditors can be found. The OSIG does not regulate gaming, and its auditors examine the books and workings of the entire executive branch.
Then there's the Legislative Auditor, which, like the OSIG, audits governmental entities. However, mere citizens cannot request a legislative audit — but citizens and whistleblowers can file complaints (and trigger audits and investigations) with the state IG's office.
Not much redundancy in any of those offices, though they often work together. In fact, eliminating the OSIG as "redundant" would be like eliminating cops and sheriffs because prosecutors also work to put criminals in jail.
What is redundant is the penchant of some elected officials to use the power of their offices to pursue personal or political agendas. Jefferson was an extreme example. I'm not accusing those who voted in committee to defund the OSIG of being crooks, but the end result of their vote — if the House goes along with it — will be enabling the next "Dollar Bill" Jefferson. Do they really want that as their legacy?
The inspector general's annual budget for the current fiscal year is $1.7 million. According to the OSIG's annual report for July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, the office saved taxpayers $3.2 million — and helped send several crooks to jail — during that 12-month period.
The House takes up the appropriations bill May 10. It will be interesting to see if the OSIG is amended back into the bill — and who votes against that idea.
I'm guessing the debate would bring a smile to Dollar Bill's face ... were he allowed by the Bureau of Prisons to watch.