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Drug Busts, Hurricanes, and Torture, Oh My! 10 Key Inspector General Investigations

With the release of POGO's new Inspector General (IG) vacancy tracker, we've sparked discussion about the important role IGs play in government oversight. We've also encouraged President Obama to appoint IGs in a timely manner, and asked the Senate to consider nominees promptly.

But let’s get real—the work of federal watchdogs isn’t exactly sexy. I’d wager you could walk from one end of the National Mall to the other and not pass a single person who could identify an Inspector General by name. However, recently, IGs are behind some of the biggest headlines and savings in U.S. government. Ever heard of the numerous scandals involving Solyndra? Bernie Madoff? Hurricane Katrina? Then you’ve probably run across a case that your trusty federal IG helped shed light on. Read on to learn more about ten of these important cases.    

>> >> Click Here to See 10 Key Inspector General Investigations << <<

Photograph of a Guantanamo Prisoner
Photograph of a Coast Guard Ship
Photograph of hurricane damage
Photograph of a Rotary Telephone
Thumbnail of Wrecked Humvee
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Torture, Mock Executions, and Waterboarding (CIA IG, 2004)

Photograph of a Guantanamo Prisoner

The CIA Inspector General released a report (the unclassified version can be found here) describing CIA interrogation methods “in such horrifying terms, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet immediately suspended the program,” as Doyle McManus wrote the Los Angeles Times. The report threw the government’s mock executions and waterboarding into the public light, and determined that there was no conclusive evidence that interrogation techniques thwarted imminent terrorist attacks. Despite referrals by the CIA IG to the Dept. of Justice, no CIA official has ever been prosecuted for the documented abuses.

Image of Guantanamo detainees by Flickr user

2. The Other Deepwater Disaster (Department of Homeland Security IG, 2006)

Photograph of a Coast Guard Ship

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) IG performed an audit in 2006 on the Coast Guard’s plan to spend $20 billion modernizing and strengthening its aging deepwater fleet, it found “limited oversight and unclear contract requirements.” It only got worse from there. Later, the Coast Guard discovered that some of the boats had “deformation and cracks.” The IG released another report in 2009, reviewing the Coast Guard’s efforts to get its money back from the prime contractor, Integrated Coast Guard Systems.  In this case, the IG reports were one of many signs that Deepwater was sinking.

Image of Deepwater Boat by Wikimedia Commons user Rnendza

3. KBR Overcharges for Hurricane Relief (Department of Defense IG, 2008)

Photograph of hurricane damage

According to a Department of Defense IG report, contractor giant KBR overcharged the U.S. Navy on contracts to provide support services in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan. KBR charged the Navy about $4.1 million for services and meals, when they should have cost $1.7 million. KBR’s subcontractor reportedly served fewer than half of the 227,500 meals KBR paid for over the 34-day contract performance period. The rest of the meals were thrown out because they could not be stored at a safe temperature.  

Image of Hurricane Katrina aftermath by Flickr user Loco Steve

4. Misuse of the Patriot Act (Department of Justice IG, 2008) 

Photograph of a Rotary Telephone

In 2008, after several lawsuits about the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, the Department of Justice (DOJ) IG released a report confirming that under the controversial Patriot Act, the FBI was abusing its power to force the disclosure of customer records held by banks, telephone companies, and Internet providers. The audit found that these National Security Letters "were issued without proper authority, cited incorrect statutes or obtained information they weren't supposed to," according to CNN. This wasn’t the only DOJ IG report to reveal these kinds of abuses—a 2010 report showed that the FBI was skirting laws by obtaining phone records through post-it notes.

Image of old-school phone by Flickr user plenty.r.

5. Humvee Death Traps (Department of Defense IG, 2008)

Photograph of a wrecked Humvee

A Department of Defense IG report on the delayed acquisition of large numbers of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), sparked by the disclosures of whistleblower Franz Gayl, showed that the Pentagon had reports in the mid-nineties that its Humvee vehicles were “death traps”—but failed to act. Although the Pentagon outfitted the Humvees with better protections for use in Iraq, the vehicles still weren’t equipped to protect occupants against improvised explosive devices, the IG found. If Army and Marine Corps officials had acted on urgent requests from Marines in Iraq, countless lives could have been saved.

Image of Humvee in Iraq by Flickr user aliveinbaghdad

6. Sex, Drugs, and Oil Royalties (Interior Department IG, 2008)

Photograph of a microwave appliance.

Talk about a scandal: the Interior IG found that employees of the Minerals Management Service (the now-reincarnated agency tasked with making oil and gas companies pony up for billions in royalties) were allegedly involved in an ethical train wreck. The allegations included a manager buying cocaine from an employee, sexual misconduct, conflicts of interest, and—wait for it—snorting crystal meth off of a toaster oven. The IG reports on the incident, unsurprisingly, triggered congressional outrage.

Image of toaster oven by Flickr user prettywar-stl

7. Madoff Ponzi Scheme (Securities and Exchange Commission IG, 2009)

Artwork depicting the Madoff jail cell.

If anyone knows how difficult it is to get the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to listen to a whistleblower, it’s Harry Markopolos. He repeatedly tipped off the SEC about Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme—the largest financial fraud in U.S. history—and was ignored. The SEC’s negligence might have gone unnoticed, if not for this scathing IG report showing that the agency acted incompetently in busting Madoff’s scheme. The IG report inspired a series of sweeping reforms, including the creation of the SEC's new whistleblower program under the Dodd-Frank Act. Thanks to the IG's exhaustive investigation into the Madoff debacle, the SEC will likely think twice before brushing off another whistleblower.

Image of Bernie Madoff by Flickr user mariopipern

8. $6.6 Billion Lost and Found in Iraq

(Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 2010/2011)

Photograph of a single guy

It should be impossible to lose $6.6 billion in cash, but that’s exactly what the U.S. government appeared to do in Iraq, when U.S. defense officials were unable to account for the funds. In an October 2011 audit, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction determined that the Coalition Provisional Authority had transferred control of the vast majority of funds to the Central Bank of Iraq. This audit provided oversight on where taxpayer dollars were going in Iraq—something the Department of Defense didn’t appear to be able to do on its own.

Image of SIGIR Stuart Bowen by Flickr user JMU Photography Services

9. Solyndra (Energy Department IG, 2011)

Photograph of Solar Panels

On paper, the solar company Solyndra seemed like a solid investment: it claimed its cost-cutting solar panels were unlike any other product in the energy industry. The Department of Energy loaned Solyndra more than $500 million—then in September, the company filed for bankruptcy, resulting in the loss of 1,100 jobs. The Department of Energy and the Obama Administration may not have been able to explain this disaster—but the IG could. As reported by The Washington Post, in testimony intended to summarize “more than 100 investigations,” IG Gregory Friedman raised concerns about the federal loan program used to fund Solyndra and disclosed that the Energy Department was not adequately prepared to manage stimulus funds.

Image of solar panels by Flickr user Abi Skipp

10. Unsafe Food Inspection (Department of Health and Human Services IG, 2011)

Photograph of a hamburger

Each year, about 3,000 Americans die from consuming unsafe food or beverages—and according to this IG report, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approach to food inspection could be partly at fault. The report found that the FDA has been increasingly relying on state agencies to conduct inspections, many of which have been executed poorly. The FDA failed to properly oversee those agencies by conducting too few audits of them, paying them for incomplete inspections, and neglecting to consistently follow-up with them, the IG report found. It’s still early to know if the FDA has made sufficient changes in response to the report—but in the future, you should probably thank an IG before dinner. 

 Image of burger by Flickr user Ron Dollete

Related Content: Defense, Ethics, Financial Oversight, Intelligence, Public Health, Waste

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