JUNE 25, 2013
With government corruption and waste on the rise, the biggest agencies with the largest budgets ironically have gone years without adequate oversight from inspector generals that are charged with independently investigating them and rooting out fraud.
This is especially scary considering it includes key cabinet agencies and the Obama administration is among the most secretive in recent history, despite the president’s promise to be the most transparent. Among agencies that haven’t had a permanent inspector general in years are the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Labor, according to a mainstream newspaper report published recently.
The article further reveals that the high-level agencies that have gone years without a watchdog account for about $843 billion in annual spending, nearly a quarter of the entire federal budget. Some haven’t had solid oversight for years. For instance, the State Department has not had a steady inspector general since 2008 and the Department of Labor (DOL) since 2009. This is downright outrageous, which is why earlier this year a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators demanded in a letter that the president fill the watchdog positions at key agencies like the Pentagon and others.
The lawmakers wrote back in January that “a sustained absence of permanent leadership is not healthy for any office – particularly one entrusted with as important and challenging a mission as an Office of Inspector General. Inspectors general occupy a unique role – tasked with speaking truth to power and with dual reporting obligations to their agency head and to Congress. Those unique pressures may be especially challenging for an acting inspector general, serving without the endorsement of presidential selection and Senate confirmation.”
Perhaps the commander-in-chief used the letter to scoop up the First Dog’s poop! Months later nothing has changed, according to the news story cited above. Congress created the office of inspector general more than three decades ago to investigate cases of wrongdoing inside government agencies. In all, 64 agencies have an inspector general to fight waste, fraud and abuse. Nearly half—the biggest and most important—are appointed by the president and all are supposed to be politically independent, but that’s hardly been the case.
A few years go a number of inspectors general came under fire and faced retaliation and scrutiny after exposing wrongdoing at the agencies they were charged with investigating. This led Congress to contemplate legislation to protect the watchdogs by, among other things, requiring the president to notify Congress 30 days before firing an inspector general to guard against terminations for political reasons.
In other instances inspector general offices have been drastically weakened despite heavily workloads at agencies embroiled in serious wrongdoing. For example in mid 2008 the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General was cut to part-time during a period when the agency was rocked by huge contract scandals. The Pentagon was in the midst of an investigation into waste and abuse in southwest Asia and the Middle East and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars had been wasted because the agency lost track of many of the 60,000 private contractors supporting the U.S. military in the region. Cutting its watchdog made absolutely no sense and could not have come at a worse time.
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