How independent are agency IGs?

Friday - 9/23/2011, 6:53pm EDT

Susan Ragland, Director of Financial Management and Assurance Issues, GAO

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Agencies' inspectors general are more independent thanks to provisions in various laws. One area that still needs improvement, however, is the budget transparency of IG offices.

A Government Accountability Office report found some agencies did not separately identify the budget for their IG in the fiscal year 2011 budget submission.

Transparency "does provide an avenue for inspectors general to highlight if they don't think they're getting sufficient resources to perform their jobs," said Susan Ragland, director of Financial Management and Assurance Issues at GAO, in an interview with In Depth.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act required GAO to review the role of agency IGs.

Generally, the 62 IGs surveyed in the GAO report said the provisions to increase their independence have been implemented, including:

  • All IGs surveyed said they have access to independent counsel.

  • IG's can issue a seven-day letter if they believe there is a problem to be resolved. From 2009 to 2011, there was only one instance of this letter and really it's seen as a "last resort," Ragland said.

  • A provision in Dodd-Frank directed some IG's to report to an entire board instead of one agency chair.

  • Another provision in Dodd-Frank required a two-thirds vote by a board of commissioners to remove an IG.

The increased independence has helped IGs identify billions of dollars of waste and fraud.

The IGs reported potential savings of about $43.3 billion resulting from their fiscal year 2009 audits and investigations. With a fiscal year 2009 budget authority of about $2.3 billion, the IG's potential savings represent about an $18 return on every dollar invested in their offices, according to the GAO report.