Our friends at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have a new report on the U.S. inspectors general, a constellation of watchdog agencies distributed throughout the government. POGO finds that many IGs lack required resources, limiting their independence. Global Integrity also reported on this trend earlier this year in the Global Integrity Report: United States. The real irony of this underfunding is that the IGs actually turn a substantial “profit” by catching more waste and fraud than they cost to operate. This really only leaves one explanation for underfunding them — elected officials find effective oversight to be inconvenient.
Quoting from the POGO newsletter —
Many of the nation’s inspectors general (IGs) lack the resources they need to function as independent government watchdogs, according to a new report released by POGO last Friday. POGO sent a questionnaire to all 64 statutory IG offices, and discovered that many IGs are being forced to operate with minimal funding and staffing, a lack of in-house legal counsels, limited control over their own websites, and competition from similar investigative units within their agencies. As POGO points out in the report, “calling someone who lacks independence of agency leadership an ‘Inspector General’ not only confuses the press and public, but can also create pitfalls for potential whistleblowers.”
Quoting Ken Stier from the Global Integrity Report: United States —
There are close to 12,000 employees working [in the IGs] with a combined budget of US$1.9 billion, up from US$1.5 billion in 2002. (Although the Central Intelligence Agency has an IG, neither the size of its staff nor its budget is made public.) The IGs seem to be a very good investment for taxpayers. Collectively they recovered US$6.8 billion for the public coffers from fines, settlements or recoveries, and investigations. The investigations also yielded 8,400 successful prosecutions, 7,300 suspension or debarments, and 4,200 personnel actions, all in a single year (2006), according to the most recent report from the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a supervisory board chaired by the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
An additional US$9.9 billion in potential savings has been identified through audit recommendations. “These performance levels are consistent with previous years’ efforts: IGs have been and continue to be a primary means by which we identify and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse,” OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson III told a Senate oversight committee in July. “The IGs play a critical role in identifying mismanagement of scarce taxpayer dollars,” added David M. Walker, U.S. comptroller general. “As we enter a period where great transformation will be needed in the way government does business [because of escalating deficits and limited resources], it will be increasingly important to consider the IGs’ role in this process, and to take advantage of the opportunities to make the IG offices more efficient and effective.”
But rather than investing in these “profit centers” OIGs are generally under-funded, particularly when compared with the growth of their agencies, the multiplying complexity they face and their increased reporting demands. The Justice Department, for instance, has grown about 30 percent in the last 15 years, from 83,000 employees to 110,000, but the OIG there has essentially remained the same – with about 400 staff rather than the 520 it would have if it were keeping pace. “I am concerned that inadequate resources can affect both the thoroughness and timeliness of projects that are, by necessity, staffed more thinly than warranted…[and] that our employees may be burned out when we continually ask them to do more with less,” Glenn Fine, the Department of Justice’s inspector general, told Congress recently.