The offices of Inspector General were created under the “Inspector General Act of 1978” to serve as internal watchdogs within federal agencies by conducting audits and investigations into programs, providing policy recommendations to “promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness,” preventing fraud, and communicating administrative problems to Congress. Since their inception, the Inspectors General (IG) have served an invaluable role for taxpayers by rooting out waste and increasing transparency. However, the important work of the IGs is being hindered by the Obama Administration according to a letter sent earlier this month from IGs across the federal government to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. NPR reports:
Forty-seven IGs signed a letter this month highlighting problems with access to federal records — problems they say slow their investigations and threaten their independence.
"If the IG community cannot rally around getting access to data, access to information, what can they rally around?" asks Brian Miller, who served as inspector general at the General Services Administration for nine years. "You know, this is, this is vital."
Miller says by failing to hand over documents and access to electronic databases, bureaucrats can deprive IGs of the fuel they need to do their work.
Taxpayers have real reason to be concerned at the news IGs aren’t receiving the support and access to information they need from the “most transparent administration in history.” Over the years, the important work of the IGs has been the source of critical information. Here’s just a small sample of what IGs have uncovered:
- August 2014: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that as many as 1.4 million taxpayers had their personal information exposed to increase risk of fraud and identity theft.
- August 2014: U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General investigations turned up multiple Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) trafficking rings resulting in millions in restitution being paid back to taxpayers. There was also evidence of numerous examples of employee theft.
- July 2014: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (or SIGAR) identified billions of dollars in waste such as two $40.5 billion C-130 transport planes Afghanistan’s air force can’t use, buildings that don’t meet international building codes, and overpayments.
- June 2014: Inspector General for Health and Human Services found “deficiencies” in controls to prevent fraudulent signups through Healthcare.gov that could have resulted in more than 300,000 people improperly receiving coverage.
- August 2012: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found a systemic failure at the IRS to detect and prevent billions of dollars in attempted fraud.
- April 2012: General Services Administration Inspector General uncovered the hundreds of thousands of dollars employees have spent on food, entertainment, and travel at a luxury conference.
Just from the handful of cases above, it’s clear the IGs fulfill an essential role in ensuring tax dollars aren’t misused and federal programs are properly administrated. Best of all, unlike so many other government endeavors, taxpayers can be sure they are making a good investment when it comes to these vital people. A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the savings IGs generated through their audits and investigations “represented an $18 return on every dollar invested in IGs.”
Of course, if IGs are finding it harder to do their jobs and obtain the information necessary to conduct thorough analyses, taxpayers will see less and less of that investment recouped and more and more waste across all agencies. Taxpayers will have to hope that Congress and the Administration can find a way to ensure our IGs can continue to be an effective tool that raises the bar for bureaucracy.