Lawmakers, IGs seek upgrade for popular oversight website a year after rollout

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One year following the launch of Oversight.gov, a one-stop shop where users can reference more than 10,000 agency inspector general reports, the watchdog community sees an opportunity to grow the website.

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general and chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) said Oversight.gov has provided more visibility into the IG community’s work to fight fraud, waste and abuse at their agencies.

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“Oversight.gov gives us a great opportunity to further our mission at CIGIE to support cross-cutting work and to help IGs think about how our reviews impact across the executive branch and across the government,” Horowitz said in an interview with Federal News Radio.

Horowitz said Oversight.gov could prove to be a valuable tool in tracking data on common challenges in government.

“What we hope to potentially offer is, if we have funding, to work to make that kind of data and that kind of information available to IGs who have that analytics capability, but also to the public at large and stakeholders who want to see what that amalgam of data that we have sitting on Oversight.gov,” he said.

The IG community has already taken steps to look at governmentwide issues. In April, it 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.

CIGIE arrived at its findings by examining more than 60 IG reports on agency-specific challenges. Prior to that, IGs only released annual reports about their own agency’s management and performance challenges.

“What changed with Oversight.gov and with this effort by CIGIE was to bring all of those 60-plus reports together so that the public could see in one place what our work products said across the federal government, consolidate those and report out on those, so that policymakers who are assessing the issues and the challenges and the federal government have another tool and another set of information that can help them better address those problems,” Horowitz 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.

The Senate version of the general government appropriations bill includes $2 million for the website to build out these capabilities.

While President Donald Trump signed a “minibus” package of spending bills for FY 2019, the decision to fund Oversight.gov will likely be pushed back to December, when the continuing resolution for the remaining spending bills expire.

Bipartisan support for IGs ‘on the front lines’

This year, a bipartisan coalition of senators have supported the work of CIGIE and efforts to fund Oversight.gov.

Speaking in support of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill in July, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said funding for Oversight.gov would help highlight the work of IGs.

“IGS are on the front lines of the efforts to reduce waste fraud and abuse in the federal government and their recommendations produce billions of dollars in cost savings. We need to be able to actually see those and to be able to implement it,” Lankford said. “Oversight.gov improves the accessibility and prominence of their work, and I’m confident this effort will produce even greater savings in the future by maintaining the database of open IG recommendations at Oversight.gov.”

The $2 million included in the Senate version of the general spending bill backs up lawmakers’ approval of the Inspector General Recommendation Transparency Act in May.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would require agencies to post IG recommendations that have gone unmet for longer than a year “to a single, searchable website.”

The senators introduced their bill in November 2017, just a month after the launch of Oversight.gov.

“While inspectors general find billions in potential taxpayer savings each year, the general public may have a tough time tracking down whether an agency has made a good-faith effort to resolve issues identified by inspectors general,” Heitkamp said following Senate approval of her bill.

A year after its launch, Oversight.gov now includes public reports from 70 of the 73 federal Offices of the Inspector General. Within that period of time, three OIGs within the intelligence community — at the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency — released their first public reports.

If Congress gives the IG community the funding it’s looking to upgrade Oversight.gov, Horowitz said CIGIE may consider hosting agency IG websites.

“By doing that, we can create greater independence for those IGs and support those IGs, whether they’re smaller IGs, or even larger sized IGs, like the DoJ IG office — my own office,” Horowitz said.

CIGIE celebrates the one-year anniversary of Oversight.gov the same month that it recognizes the 40th anniversary of the Inspector General Act.

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