As sequestration cuts loom, unimplemented IG recommendations could save billions

Tuesday - 3/5/2013, 8:18pm EST

Over the past few years, unimplemented agency inspector general recommendations that could potentially save the government billions of dollars have piled up.

Now, with $85 billion in automatic budget cuts kicking in, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are telling agencies there's no excuse for them to further delay implementing the cost-saving measures and best practices identified by their IGs.

In 2009, there were 10,894 open IG recommendations, according to a report released by the oversight committee ahead of a hearing Tuesday. But by 2012, that number had grown to 16,906, representing a potential $67 billion in savings.

And if agencies won't act on those recommendations, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said he will.

"As Congress and the administration work to identify new ways to save money, they would be well-served by implementing the recommendations of the IG community," the report stated. "If evidence continues to mount that the administration is dismissive of the work of the IG community, Congress should aggressively incorporate unimplemented recommendations into legislative actions."

Open recommendations, vacancies go hand in hand

Issa's committee has sought to forge close ties with agency watchdogs. In January, a letter from both the House and Senate oversight committees called on the Obama administration to fill persistent vacancies in the IG ranks.

The IG community is also beset by a spate of longstanding vacancies including those at six large agencies: the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

According to the committee, there's a connection between vacancies and unimplemented recommendations. Among the agencies with most unfulfilled recommendations are those with long-term vacancies in their IG offices.

Long-term vacancies "weaken the office of the Inspector General," the report stated. "A permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities. An acting official, on the other hand, is known by all OIG staff to be temporary."

Sequestration takes center stage at hearing

The oversight hearing Tuesday was billed as an opportunity for committee members to question administration officials at the Education and Transportation departments over outstanding IG recommendations at their agencies.

In her prepared testimony, Education IG Kathleen Tighe pointed to the sluggish pace with which department officials implemented IG recommendations. According to Tighe's testimony, 90 percent of OIG audits, issued between January 2007 through the end of 2010, were not resolved within the six-month time-frame recommended by the Office of Management and Budget. And as of January of this year, 42 percent of those audits were still unresolved.

Because of Education's delay and the running out of the statute of limitations, the department lost out on the ability to recovery $415 million in costs, according to Tighe's testimony.

But with sequestration on everyone's minds, the hearing quickly devolved into sharp questioning of agencies' claims of sequestration impacts and whether some effects — such as laid-off teachers or flight delays — were being over-hyped by the administration.

Tighe made it clear IG offices will also feel the effects of the budget cuts.

The Education OIG office will suffer a $3 million budget cut, Tighe said. Office employees, including Tighe, herself, will be furloughed for about 10 to 11 days, she said. The office has also cut back on an IT security support-service contract and is sending term employees home at the end of the month, she added.

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