Why did the President Cross the Road?

            Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight has posted some thoughts regarding the President’s removal of the Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service.  While Brian notes various troubling aspects of this matter (for more details see here), she contends that the removal complies with the letter, if not the spirit, of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 (a law co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama). 

            The IG Reform Act provides in pertinent part that “[i]f an Inspector General is removed from office or is transferred to another position or location within an establishment, the President shall communicate in writing the reasons for any such removal or transfer to both Houses of Congress, not later than 30 days before the removal or transfer.”  The President evidently attempted to comply with this requirement by letter to Congress in which he “explained” the removal as follows: “[I]t is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspector General.  That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.” 

            Brian argues that this “minimal explanation” satisfies the legal requirement.  She notes that Congress chose not to adopt a provision that would have limited the President’s ability to remove IGs to specific grounds, namely permanent incapacity, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance, felony conviction, gross mismanagement or waste funds, or abuse of authority.  Because Congress did not require that the President to have a good reason for firing an IG, she argues, it has only itself to blame for the fact that the President has given a bad one. 

            While Brian may very well be right that Congress would have done better to prohibit removal of IGs except for good cause, I do not see the connection between this issue and the notification provision.  Perhaps the President can, for example, remove an IG because his horoscope says that it is a good day to fire someone, but the law still requires him to notify Congress that this is the reason for the removal.   

            When Congress required the President to state the reasons for removing an IG, it was not looking for an answer analogous to the response to “why did the chicken cross the road?”  Explaining that the President removed or transferred an IG  because he lacks confidence in him is little better than explaining that the chicken crossed the road to get  to the other side.  The question remains, why did the President lose confidence in the IG? 

            The problem here is not that the President has given a bad reason for the removal.  It is that he has failed to give a reason at all or, at best, has given only one of the reasons for the removal.  The statute requires that the President give the “reasons” for the removal.  Unless the President lost confidence in the CNCS IG for no reason at all, the notice to Congress fails to meet this requirement.