IG offices thrive despite lack of permanent leadership

Friday - 5/11/2012, 5:46am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The State Department has been without a Senate-confirmed inspector general for 1,576 days. Three other agencies — the departments of Interior and Labor and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) — have been without a political audit leader for more than 1,000 days.

While only the CNCS has a nominee before the Senate, there doesn't seem to be any end in sight for the others.

But House lawmakers exploring the impact of not having permanent IGs are finding that while few would argue against having a Senate-confirmed leader, agency's IG offices are performing audits and saving the government money at a rate never seen before under acting or deputies.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.)

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said DHS acting IG Charles Edwards is a prime example of this progress without an official leader.

"Before he assumed his post, recovered funds were $3.7 million in fines and savings and administrative cost savings were $6.5 million. After he assumed his post, these amounts increased to $19.9 million and $20.5 million, respectively," Davis said Thursday during a hearing on IG vacancies before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "My point is not that he's doing something substantially different than his predecessor, although that may be true, my point is the IG office is made up of thousands and thousands workers who devote their professional careers to this."

It's also those professional workers who are stepping in where the administration and the Senate have failed them.

State audits increased by more than half

The State Department is the poster child for these failures. After Howard Krongard resigned in December 2007, State had two acting IGs for a few years, one of whom, Harold Geisel, is now the highest ranking official in the office as deputy IG. There is no official acting IG as Geisel could only serve in the acting position for one year.

Despite the failures, State's auditors are thriving.

Charles Edwards, acting inspector general, Homeland Security Department

"We are going about our business and not having a permanent IG has had no impact on the dedication to our mission or to our robust oversight," said Doug Welty, the State IG spokesman. "Since 2008, under Harry, inspections and audits have increased by 56 percent between 2008 and 2011. Congress is the one who approves and increases our budget, and they wouldn't be doing that if they were not happy with our performance."

Lawmakers and the administration continue to give State more money, from $59 million in 2011 to $62 million in 2012, and the White House requested $66 million for 2013.

There are plenty of other examples too. The Interior Department's acting IG exposed the corruption in the Minerals Management Service and suspended or debarred 78 contractors.

"These individuals do in fact provide very effective services, and we are in good stead when they are placed in those offices even though they have not been permanently placed," Davis said. "It does help to try and speed up the permanent placement so that individuals have security themselves of knowing what they will be doing and expected to do."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said promoting the acting IG to become the permanent lead is an interesting idea.

"The proof of the pie is in the eating, and if a person is doing a good job there's nothing to suggest he or she will not continue to do so," Davis said.

IG nomination process frustrating

But the frustration over State, the Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the nine others was evident throughout the hearing.

"I don't understand why at this point we still have these people who are in acting positions after 3-1/2 years," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

A White House spokesman said the administration is trying to address the vacancies.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

"The administration is committed to strong Inspectors General, and we are working diligently to identify highly qualified candidates to fill these important posts," the spokesman said. "The administration supports the work and commitment of all of the IG Offices, including those currently being led by acting IGs, as they strive to ensure that taxpayers are getting the good government they deserve."

State referred all questions about the status of their permanent IG back to the White House.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) pointed out through all this discussion and concern about the 10 vacancies among IGs, the number of vacancies in the fourth year of the Obama administration is about the same as the number of vacancies in the Bush administration in 2004. He said history shows IG vacancies are part of the territory.

Which vacancies, not how many

But Jake Wiens, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, said it's not always the who, but how long the agency has been missing a Senate-confirmed IG.

Wiens said there are several advantages to having a politically-appointed IG.

"One structure advantage of permanent IG leadership involves independence. Another advantage of permanent IG leadership involves credibility," he said. "Both of these qualities can have a huge determinant of the effectiveness or lack thereof of a particular IG office."

House lawmakers are stuck waiting for the Senate or White House to act. Issa asked if there was anything the House could do to help reduce the number of vacancies.

Phyllis Fong, the chairwoman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the Agriculture Department's IG, said Issa's DATA Act, which the House passed in April, and the requirement for agencies to submit an annual report to Congress detailing their IG's recommendations and which ones still need to be resolved are helpful.

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