Does an Office of Inspector General Have Search Warrant Authority?
If you are a Federal employee who has become aware that you or your workplace are under investigation by an Office of Inspector General (OIG), you probably have many questions. What authority do they have? Can they issue search warrants?
The short answer to these questions is: their powers are broad and, yes, do include the ability to issue warrants.
What Is an Inspector General?
An Inspector General is the watchdog for a particular Federal agency. At present, there are more than 70 IGs for a corresponding Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) are charged with investigating waste, fraud, and abuse within the government. Many of these investigations are civil in nature, but there is the possibility of criminal referral to the Department of Justice (DoJ), which we will discuss more below.
Inspector General Act of 1978
Signed into law during the Carter Administration, the Inspector General Act established the first dozen or so OIGs. Many individual oversight bodies within agencies, such as the ‘Office of Investigations’ or the ‘Office of Audits,’ were combined into a single body. This body had subpoena power, audit power, and access to internal documents for review.
Inspector General Reform Act of 2008
The next major legislation governing OIGs came thirty years after their establishment. The IG Reform Act provided further protections and regulations to prevent the politicization of IG hiring and the possibility of financial impropriety related to compensation and cash bonuses. The Act also established a central Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to increase coordination between individual agencies’ IGs. Significantly, the Act also standardized IG law enforcement authority across all OIGs. As we have detailed in another post, there are a number of idiosyncratic characteristics that separate OIG investigations from other Federal investigations.
OIGs Work With the DOJ
While OIGs conduct their own investigations, primarily civil, a core purpose since their inception has been to refer matters to the Department of Justice for prosecution if appropriate. The referral can be for criminal or civil matters. Another core responsibility of an OIG is supporting DOJ investigations. Which means, even though the OIG investigator you are talking to now may not be a lawyer, and may not be discussing criminal liability, there is every possibility that a U.S. Assistant District Attorney may soon be interested in you.
What to Do If You Are Caught Up in an OIG Investigation
If you or your workplace are under investigation by your agency’s Office of Inspector General, you need to seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible, even before a criminal referral seems possible. At Burnham & Gorokhov, we can review the particular facts of your situation and determine the best course of action in the face of an OIG investigation. Contact our office as soon as possible to discuss your situation.