As the government oversight community celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Inspector General Act this year, IGs and lawmakers have signaled their support for beefing up a governmentwide watchdog organization.
Since banding together in 2008, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) has addressed oversight issues that go beyond any one particular agency. And more recently, CIGIE has flexed more of its muscle as a cross-government overseer.
In April, CIGIE released its first-ever report on the top management and performance issues across the government, and found that some of the biggest governmentwide hurdles — such as IT security and human capital management — tie back to constrained agency budgets and trouble hiring and retaining federal employees.
The independent council also launched Oversight.gov, a one-stop shop where users can reference more than 6,000 agency IG reports.
Speaking July 11 at a CIGIE event on Capitol Hill, David Williams, a former Postal Service inspector general, called Oversight.gov “an amazing breakthrough,” but urged the IG community to immediately get to work in building the “2.0” version of the website.
“That’s your voice, that’s your visibility. That’s your way of telling your story, and it needs to allow anyone who’s looking to want to find out about the government to look across government — one click, one stop. That needs to be you,” Williams said.
For fiscal 2019, CIGIE has requested “modest funding” to develop new features, like a checklist of outstanding IG recommendations for each agency, and a cross-agency platform for whistleblowers to leave tips.
For their part, lawmakers seem willing to grant the extra funding to IGs. In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would give CIGIE $2 million in fiscal 2019 to fund Oversight.gov.
Next big hurdle: direct access to data systems
While agency IGs continue to face challenges in accessing documents from their agencies during the course of their audits and investigations, Williams said the oversight community will need to soon wage a new war with agencies: direct access to data systems.
“We’re in the world of big data, so to detect fraud, to look at performance, to do our jobs, you need the capacity to have digital analytics,” he said.
Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s IG and the chairman of CIGIE, also agreed that in the near future, inspectors general will need to rely more on data analytics to do their jobs effectively. But in order to get there, he added that agencies will need to share data.
“The issues are getting bigger, and I think we have to evolve as a community going forward in that regard,” Horowitz said. “IGs are going to have to do cross-cutting work, and I think it’s important that we look at those big-picture issues, and not shy away from them. It’s easy to do our own reviews within the Justice Department — focus on what DoJ is doing. It’s a lot harder to partner with multiple OIGs who have very different business systems that they operate under. The agencies don’t like seeing us there, either.”
While the relationship between IGs and agency heads can sometimes be contentious, Horowitz said that estrangement could get worse when outside watchdogs request agency data.
“There’s this feeling that agencies own their data — it’s their data and they don’t want you matching their data with another agency’s data. It could embarrass them, the other agency could be embarrassed, the program could be embarrassed … the sooner we can start breaking down that thinking, the better, for our ability to move forward in a constructive way,” Horowitz said.
However, the IG community has banded together for audits in the past. Following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, for example, the IGs from the intelligence community, the Central Intelligence Agency, DoJ and the Homeland Security Department put out a joint report about information sharing during the investigation.
“We got questions from the FBI: ‘Wait, why is the CIA IG going to be able to see the FBI’s data, or the other IGs involved?’ And the answer was, because we’re doing a joint review, and they have a right to see it like we do. But those questions are multiplying and growing,” Horowitz said.
On the cybersecurity front, Williams said the IG workforce also needs to better understand the chain of command when an agency data breach occurs.
During his tenure, Williams investigated a cyber intrusion in which officials found a beacon on USPS’ network sending out information to a foreign intelligence service.
“That was very difficult, to understand what are the resources that we marshal. Who are those people quietly in government who are waiting for that call? The community obviously needs a protocol guide as to what to when that occasional, massively serious incident occurs,” he said.