Up Next? Making Sure Our Inspectors General Are Up To the Job

A row of empty chairs in a conference room

Since the Inspector General Act of 1978, almost every federal agency has an inspector general to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse and to promote economic efficiency, and effectiveness in the agency’s operations and programs.

Currently, there are over a dozen of inspectors general vacancies that need to be filled, including for major departments like Defense, Education, Treasury and Health and Human Services. While these vacancies are not usually at the top of the list for a new administration to fill, it is important that the Biden-Harris administration appoint individuals to these posts.

At a time when the federal government is spending trillions of dollars to address the pandemic and its economic fallout, there are no Senate-confirmed inspectors general at the departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury.

According to Department of the Interior Inspector General, Mark Greenblatt, “There are acting officials in some of the most high-risk agencies in the federal government, particularly now.”

In 2018 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed employees working under acting inspectors general.

They found, “Almost a quarter of the Office of Inspectors General employees believed that working under an acting Inspector General has a negative effect on their office’s ability to complete reports in a timely fashion, issue high-visibility or high-risk reports, and address high-risk and high-priority issues.”

There are 75 federal inspectors general. Half are appointed by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate, and half are appointed by an agency head.

Inspectors general are required by law to keep both their agency heads and Congress informed about problems and deficiencies in their agencies’ programs and operations, as well as the necessity for progress or corrective action.

Inspectors general are given broad legal authority, including access to all agency records and information. They also have the authority to subpoena relevant documents and information from nonfederal organizations and individuals, which allows them to perform thorough investigations that will lead to a fair verdict or outcome.

The work of inspectors general has significant and measurable consequences. For example, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) stated in its most recent annual report that investigations and audit recommendations of inspectors general resulted in approximately $40.8 billion saved in fiscal year 2019.  

In addition, there were over 5,000 successful criminal prosecutions during the same time period.   

IGs are nonpartisan, and according to the IG Act, must be selected without regard to political affiliation, and typically remain in office even when an administration changes. This has been a practice for more than 40 years.

Inspectors general play a critical role in each federal department and agency. They ensure that our federal programs are free from fraud and abuse. Now that the Biden Harris administration has filled many of their cabinet positions, it should look to fill the open IG positions next.

Tracy handles media relations for the CLC campaign finance and ethics teams and creates online content.
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