IGs 'straddle fence' between contractors, agencies

Friday - 5/9/2014, 7:37am EDT

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When 10 Postal Service workers allegedly made false workers' compensation claims, inspectors general stepped forward to announce charges against the employees.

When employees of the Internal Revenue Service who were disciplined for misconduct still received performance bonuses, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration published the news in an audit.

IGs play a critical role in helping tackle waste, fraud and abuse, especially as agencies pull the purse strings tighter.

"I think IGs are getting a lot more attention these days. They're in the spotlight more. ... Congress is relying on IGs quite a bit, so I see the role growing," former IG for the General Services Administration Brian Miller told Roger Waldron on Off The Shelf.

Miller left GSA in April to join Navigant as managing director of disputes and investigations. He is just one of several federal managers to recently leave government for jobs in the private sector.

Best practices for dealing with IGs

Although IGs are well known for conducting internal audits within agencies, Miller said they also help to bridge the gap between agencies and contractors.

IGs conduct both pre- and post-award audits. Miller shared some tips with Waldron for contractors to deal with auditors.

"When you have large companies with various offices, it's hard to keep track of the information. So, if you know we're going to be coming in and auditing, get the information in order so that you can produce current, complete and accurate information for us when we come in," he said.

Miller said doing an internal review before the audit can be a smart business move.

Open communication between contractors and IGs is also key.

"A lot of misunderstandings just escalate ... and with more communication you can avoid that," he said. "Just be open and honest. Be prepared, and do your homework up front."

Auditing contractors

Before an agency awards a contract, auditors will take a look at a contractor's pricing information.

"We look at the pricing they give to other commercial customers," Miller said. "As the federal government, we believe that we are the biggest volume buyer and that we are entitled to as good a discount as even the largest commercial purchasers, so we look to make sure the pricing is fair and reasonable."

IGs then provide the report to agency contracting officers, who can use the audit as a guide to making purchase decisions. IGs do not share the audit with the contractor.

After a contract has been awarded, companies must abide by the mandatory disclosure rule. Contractors are required to disclose any crimes or significant overpayments to the IG's office.

"Contractors are our partners. If your partner is victimized by a crime, you would tell your partner," Miller said.

IGs: Friend or foe?

The rule fosters a constructive relationship between agencies and contractors, Miller said, but IGs are not always well received by contractors.

"Nobody likes to be audited. Nobody likes to be investigated," he said. "Being an inspector general means you're not going to have a lot of friends."

In his resignation letter to President Barack Obama, Miller said he faced many challenges during his nearly nine years as GSA IG.

"One former inspector general described inspectors general as 'straddling a barbed wire fence.' And so, that has been my experience," he wrote in the letter.

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