IG vacancies hinder efforts to root out fraud

Monday - 2/20/2012, 8:50am EST

Brian Miller, inspector general, General Services Administration

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David Kotz, former inspector general, Securities and Exchange Commission

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A dozen agencies have no permanent inspector general and some have been without one for several years, according to an IG tracker by the Project on Government Oversight.

POGO found that the State Department has not had an IG since Jan. 2008, and the Interior Department's last IG was Earl Devaney, who left in Feb. 2009 to chair the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

Other large agencies without a permanent watchdog in place are the Defense Department, Homeland Security, Labor and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The government has 73 statutory federal Offices of the Inspector General, according to POGO, which means currently 16 percent are vacant.

The need for a permanent IG at agencies is more pressing now than ever in this time of deficit and budget cuts, said David Kotz, the former IG at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"It's important that you have a strong IG who can identify those redundant projects ... and other areas where agencies and departments can engage in cost-savings," he said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

The IGs at the largest agencies require a nomination from the President and confirmation by the Senate. The smaller agencies appoint their IGs.

Kotz said the nomination and confirmation process "just takes forever," particularly at the beginning of an administration.

"Where you have a strong permanent IG, you're going to have criticism," he said. "The White House or an administration is not going to want to put themselves in a position where there's a lot of criticism."

Once an IG is nominated, the Congress takes over the process, which "still takes time," Kotz said. He added that the problem is not that the nominees are not qualified.

"The good news is there are a lot of people who are qualified who are in the pipeline," he said. "But the pipeline is slow."

Changing role of IG

Brian Miller, the IG at the General Services Administration, said the pressure has been greater to produce audits faster since the Recovery Act.

"Early warning is a big part of being an IG," Miller said.

In recent years, IGs have looked more to each other for help in investigations. In 2006, the National Procurement Fraud Task Force, which Miller co-chaired, examined how IGs could leverage their "limited resources." In one instance, the GSA OIG found the Social Security Administration was investigation an individual for the same fraud, Miller said.

Miller said the job of IG requires constant judgment, a differing skills depending on the challenges that arise. Kotz said IGs work on a spectrum, between not being a "lapdog" for the agency and not being "too aggressive."

The additional challenge at agencies without a permanent IG is the acting IG may not receive the same responsiveness from management, Kotz said.

"A lot of what is accomplished by an IG is behind the scenes. It's exerting influence, negotiations, discussing things with management. You just have a lot less leverage when you're an acting [IG]," Kotz said.

Morale suffers among OIG staff that have been without a permanent IG.

"Folks want to leave. And you lose a lot of your best people," Kotz said.

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