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It must be the month of the watchdog in Missouri. GOP gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof pledged last week to create a nonpartisan state Inspector General’s office “charged with uncovering fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption throughout state government.” The IG, in Hulshof’s proposal, would be appointed by an independent panel every three years.

According to a Hulshof campaign press release, 13 states currently have inspectors general, with additional states hosting individual offices for oversight of such areas as corrections or the National Guard.

The Association of Inspectors General was unable to confirm that number, but did point out that IGs at the state level generally fall into three categories — those appointed by the governor to oversee state activities (New York), those independently appointed (Hulshof’s plan), and those that are agency specific, as in states like Kentucky.

Hulshof, who is running against Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon on a promise to restore accountability to state governance, is not the first candidate to propose a statewide IG office in recent years. In a failed bid for Iowa’s governorship in 2006, current director of the Office of Management and Budget Jim Nussle, a Republican, called for a similar move. Then-Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, said in response to Nussle’s proposal, “I don’t think we need to add another level of bureaucracy…That doesn’t seem to work particularly well in Washington, D.C. — we still have $600 hammers being purchased by the Pentagon.”

Among other states, Delaware representatives floated the idea in 2007, and this past summer a state senator in Texas proposed a centralized IG office. Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, initially expressed support for that move.

Meanwhile, on the national level, another Missouri politician is pointing to her own legislation aimed at strengthening federal agency IGs. The bipartisan Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, introduced in the Senate last year by Democrat Claire McCaskill was signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday, written to provide separate legal counsel for inspectors, beef up law enforcement authority, and establish an executive Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

Though he signed the bill, the president did partially object to two sections of the bill in a signing statement, including the authority of the separate legal counsel. Referring to a section of the bill on including IG comments of presidential budget submissions, the president wrote, “The executive branch shall construe section 8 of the bill in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority.”

Three decades after the Inspector General Act of 1978 was enacted by Congress and in some cases mimicked by the states, battles over amending it could play an important role in the future of government oversight. No word yet on how the Halloween costumes of watchdogs are selling in St. Louis.

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