COLUMBIA — The South Carolina inspector general’s office officially became a new agency Thursday, with expanded powers to investigate allegations of fraud, waste and abuse in state government.
A new law expands the authority of the inspector general, allowing the office to investigate all agencies, not just the 16 in the Cabinet, and provides subpoena power.
The Legislative Audit Council performs similar work, but it can handle a limited number of audits yearly, and only at legislators’ request. The inspector general’s office can work off tips from employees and suspicious residents.
“This is hugely important at a time where we’re looking to clean up government and see what we can do to make it better,” Gov. Nikki Haley said at a ceremonial signing, a day after actually signing the bill into law.
Haley appointed Jim Martin as the state’s second inspector general last June. She had created the post by executive order last March. But the first inspector general, George Schroeder, left quietly seven weeks later amid concerns about the operation’s independence.
The law expands the four-person office into a separate agency with its own budget. It had been considered part of the governor’s office.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who’s advocated the idea since 2006, said setting up the office through executive order was a good attempt that ultimately helped the bill gain support, by showing it couldn’t be done without legislation.
“It’s important to have an independent person whose job it is to investigate and look into allegations, who’s not beholden to anybody politically,” said Sheheen, D-Camden, who filed the latest bill a month before Haley took office.
Martin said he’d encountered pushback on investigations from employees at non-Cabinet agencies, where he was able to do only surface investigations. The new law gives his formally recognized agency the authority for a more in-depth look, he said.
That will also require more people, he said. He couldn’t say how many employees he needs, but said whatever legislators allot his agency in the budget will determine how many investigations it’s able to do.
“The goal is to save us money,” Haley said.
Since Martin took the job last June, his office has looked into 101 cases; 15 are still under review. Martin said three involved criminal activity. One led to a Department of Social Services employee being fired for forging some documents. Two theft cases, believed to involve the same person, were turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division, he said.
Martin said that person has been charged but declined to go into detail about an ongoing case.
In cases not involving wrongdoing, investigators still discover ways to save money, he said.
The 65-year-old grandfather and former assistant SLED director said he doesn’t want the job permanently. He said he committed to one year when he came out of retirement to take the post. That means whomever Haley appoints to succeed him will start with the new fiscal year in July.