Leaders from the Inspector General community testified before Congress last week on challenges facing these key federal watchdogs, and laid out recommendations that would allow improved oversight of federal programs and spending.
The representatives from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) reported to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that recently passed legislation has helped ensure Inspector General independence and access to important government documents. The Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016 requires that federal agencies more quickly and completely provide documents and information to IGs. The same law also requires the IGs to provide Congress and the public more access to their recommendations. The Project On Government Oversight strongly supported the new law.
The Inspectors General testified about an important new resource aimed at helping Congress and the public understand the work IGs do to oversee federal agencies. The resource, Oversight.gov, is a public website that centralizes IG reports from across the federal government. It is definitely a step in the right direction toward making IG reports more accessible and easier to find, and toward providing a broad overview of government-wide IG reporting in general. The hearing witnesses outlined planned expansions of the website, including tracking whether agencies have implemented IG recommendations and posting a more whistleblower-friendly web page.
The CIGIE representatives asked Congress to provide additional help to the Inspector General community. One item at the top of their list is stronger subpoena authority. Currently, IGs lack adequate authority to seek information from federal officials and employees, inhibiting investigations. For example, the Department of Justice IG recently completed an investigation into allegations of retaliation against an FBI whistleblower, but couldn’t question another employee who made misconduct allegations against the whistleblower because the employee who made the misconduct allegations retired after getting wind of the investigation. The IG Empowerment Act had a subpoena-authority provision that could have allowed for more complete investigations, but it was pulled from the bill before passage by Congress.
The hearing witnesses also made their case to the House committee that increased resources could strengthen their oversight work. The Department of Justice IGs stated that every dollar invested in the federal Inspectors General show seventeen in return. Also, the Department of Homeland Security IG, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, described how increased staffing could help with the huge task of auditing the tens of billions of dollars in recently appropriated government funding for disaster response and recovery.
The committee Members agreed with the witnesses’ concerns over a key problem: the many agencies that do not have permanent IGs and instead rely on temporary “acting” IGs. POGO’s IG vacancy tracker shows six IGs await nomination and seven who have been nominated await Senate confirmation. Some of the positions have lacked a nominee for months or even years—the Department of the Interior has lacked a permanent IG for almost nine years.
POGO will continue to work with Congress and the IG community to help ensure that our agency watchdogs have the tools and resources needed for strong oversight over critical federal programs and spending.