Budget constraints top IG concerns, new survey reveals

Tuesday - 9/17/2013, 6:04pm EDT

Jason Miller talks about the survey on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

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Agency inspectors general ranked inadequate budgets as their No. 1 concern, according to a newly released report by the Association of Government Accountants' Corporate Advisory Group and Kearney & Company, P.C.

The IGs also said the across-the-board budget cuts caused by sequestration adversely impacted their ability to do their jobs.

AGA surveyed both former and current members of the IG community to determine the effect cost-cutting measures had on the IGs' effectiveness and to identify future areas of concern in IG operations.

The survey identified three areas of concern for the IG community:

  • "Budget — Funding to meet growing oversight responsibilities in the areas of IT security, health care, financial services and other specialized areas;

  • "Human Resources — Acquiring and retaining people with the right skills, and providing ongoing training to maintain those skills;

  • "Timely and Relevant Reporting — Issuing audit reports that are timely and improve programs and operations."

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said the top challenge they faced was limited budget resources — a situation compounded by sequestration and furloughs.

Some IGs said their offices had mitigated the effect of sequestration by adopting hiring freezes, using Web-based training and consolidating travel requirements. Even with these measures, a consensus of the IGs said sequestration presented "a significant impact on their ability to provide the level of oversight they believe is needed."

Furloughs were an additional impact of sequestration, with some IG offices facing up to 10 or 11 days of unpaid mandatory leave.

With fewer resources available, the IGs faced the difficulty of taking on new tasks that may have been mandated by legislation or adapting to changing technologies.

"Information technology (IT) security was identified by 85 percent of the respondents as the most significant area where capabilities are needed," the report said. "While changing technology creates IT security challenges, IG respondents felt that leveraging technology to integrate data analytics into their work held the greatest promise for improvements in efficiency and effectiveness."

Finding it hard to find the people to do the job

In the area of human resources, the IGs said the constrained budgets and measures to counter them, such as hiring freezes, made it difficult to obtain and retain the highly skilled staff necessary to conduct the specialized work of the IG office.

To address this problem, some survey respondents suggested the formation of an "IG Academy." This would be a rigorous training academy in enhanced audit and investigative skills, similar to what FBI agents and other federal law enforcement personnel must go through.

"There was broad agreement among the participants that of all the tools and techniques available, improved data analytics has the greatest potential to significantly improve efficiency and effectiveness," the report stated. However, survey respondents agreed the constrained budgets prevented IG offices from developing or enhancing the capability of their data analytics.

One underlying theme from the survey was that even though the annual financial audits were a significant resource commitment by both the agencies and the IG staffs, they continued to improve the internal controls and data integrity of the government's financial operations.

"The majority of the IGs surveyed expressed concern that if the financial audits were not performed annually, agencies 'would slip back,' 'unwind' or 'redirect resources,'" the report said.

According to David M. Zavada, the survey director and a partner at Kearney, IGs face many of the same budgetary challenges as others in government, but they continue to seek innovative solutions that help them do their jobs.

"By leveraging technology, collaborating and sharing more broadly, and introducing earlier risk identification and reporting, IGs are striving to maintain effective oversight in an uncertain and changing environment," he said in a press release."In future surveys we hope to take a closer look at how effective some of these innovative approaches have been and identify best practices."

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