Senator McLachlan: Gov. Malloy’s Plan to Consolidate Watchdog Agencies Will Undermine Their Independence

June 1, 2011

State Senator Michael McLachlan (R-Danbury), ranking member of the Government, Administration and Elections Committee, today raised questions about a Malloy administration proposal that consolidates nine state watchdog agencies under one umbrella.

The bill, debated in the Senate today, consolidates the Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission, Judicial Review Council, Judicial Selection Commission, Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, Office of the Child Advocate, Office of the Victim Advocate, and the State Contracting Standards Board.

McLachlan said he is concerned that the measure undermines the watchdogs’ independence.
“The governor of Connecticut currently has authorization to make many appointments within the Executive Branch, but not for ‘watchdog’ positions,” McLachlan said. “The independence of these watchdog agencies has worked well to date. Politics does not come into play in the operation of the agencies. Their decisions are independent ones. This proposal violates that independence. It will call into question whether the watchdogs’ decisions are based on politics or not.”

McLachlan spoke of the history of the watchdog agencies and how they have restored the public’s confidence and faith in government.

“Taxpayers should be confident in these agencies,” McLachlan said. “Once in a while, you get a bad apple politician who breaks the public trust. These agencies – because they are separate and independent from politics – restore that trust. This is about the integrity of what we do in government. The bill represents a good attempt to make government more efficient, but I have concluded that the big three watchdog agencies -Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission – must be separate.”

McLachlan added that the current firewall between the agencies would also be torn down by the Malloy proposal. “The potential conflict of legal matters often finds one watchdog agency suing the other,” McLachlan said. “I’m concerned that the legal staffs of these agencies, for instance, should not be sharing legal responsibilities across agency boundaries. I don’t think those firewalls were considered in the crafting of this bill.”

McLachlan also expressed concerns over how confidentiality would be protected under the new agency consolidations.
“There are many unanswered questions,” McLachlan said. “For example, how will conflicts between these agencies be resolved? Now we are consolidating them. What are the rules? Who is in charge? How will we be sure that hearings are fair? The bottom line is this: there are certain parts of state government which need crystal clear definitions. The areas of ethics, elections and freedom of information must remain beyond reproach. This law would take us in the wrong direction.”