Now is the time for IG consolidation

In 1978, Congress created Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) in many federal agencies. The IG Act mandated that most government departments create new offices to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse and corruption. Since that time, Congress has sought to increase the power of IGs by passing the IG Inspector General Act Amendments of 1988, and the IG Reform Act of 2008. Most recently, in December 2016, Congress passed the IG Empowerment Act giving federal...

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In 1978, Congress created Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) in many federal agencies. The IG Act mandated that most government departments create new offices to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse and corruption. Since that time, Congress has sought to increase the power of IGs by passing the IG Inspector General Act Amendments of 1988, and the IG Reform Act of 2008. Most recently, in December 2016, Congress passed the IG Empowerment Act giving federal IGs enhanced independence; prohibiting agencies from withholding records and allowing federal IGs to data-match across agencies.

Since IG inception, the number of federal Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) has grown at a rapid pace, now exceeding over 70 OIGs. Legislative intent was never to have an OIG in every federal agency, board or commission, but to increase oversight in a post-Watergate era. Over the course of the last nearly 40 years, the amendments to the IG Act have dramatically increased the size, scope, and responsibility of OIGs. With that comes increased reporting requirements and responsibilities that many small OIGs can no longer handle.

Several designated federal entity (DFE) OIGs (those IGs generally not presidentially appointed) have less than 10 full-time employees (FTE), comprising of a general counsel, an assistant IG for audit and an assistant IG for investigations resulting in too much administration and not enough rank-in-file.

In like designed OIGs, the offices are understaffed, and many don’t have the resources to carry out the mission, leaving many programs vulnerable and at risk. Many smaller (DFE) OIGs can no longer handle the increasing responsibility of OIGs.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others have long studied the concept of IG consolidation. A GAO study relayed that “consolidation would serve to strengthen the ability of OIGs to improve the allocation of human and financial resources within their offices and to attract and retain a workforce.” In the study, the GAO acknowledged with consolidation, there may be fewer audits, but believes areas of higher risk would likely result in more efficient and effective use of OIG resources. The GAO also believes that consolidation is likely to enhance independence throughout the IG community.

Also, in a recent study by this author, one federal IG told me that:

“I think that consolidation needs to be addressed with agencies. I think there’s just too many. I think the smaller IGs struggle with their responsibilities.”

Still, another noted: “I think probably there should be some IG consolidation. I forget which ones were proposed — legal services or something? But if you’re so small I think it might be helpful to have more critical mass, a bigger OIG to handle several agencies. I’d support that, I don’t know which ones I’d say it for, but it’s a concept I think is good.”

For the last 10-15 years, OIG consolidation has been a percolating issue in the community. The community has tried a support approach, where larger OIGs investigate on behalf of another OIG, and payment and reimbursement for services rendered and negotiated. The community has even tried a shared service approach, whereas IGs could share and request resources from other OIGs through a shared website; but the idea has failed to take off. These approaches resulted in investigative limitations and only place a Band-Aid on a larger problem.

Consolidation would require political will. It would mean some IGs and staff would be forced into another position within the parent agency, or even lose their jobs. It would also require Congressional restraint acknowledging the creation of new oversight offices often diminishes rather than improves oversight.

However, consolidation doesn’t come with risk. A 2008 Project on Government Oversight (POGO) explained consolidation would result in a lack of focus for smaller IGs, and that important oversight areas would potentially be ignored. Additionally, DFE IGs who were surveyed by the GAO said they did not want to lose their executive-level pay or their status as a federal IG.

Currently, there is talk that a member of Congress is working on draft legislation that would eliminate at least seven OIGs and consolidate their offices, align their investigative and audit responsibilities with a larger OIG.  I’m told this draft legislation has been sent to the Council of the IG on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) for review. The hope is to pass the legislation by the start of fiscal 2019. If that were to occur, we could see the number of federal OIG shrink into the low 60s, a number not seen since the early 1990s.

As scholar Paul Light once noted: “IGs should focus on solving larger problems and should place more emphasis on preventing fraud, improving overall agency performance, and identifying systemic weaknesses in government.”

As OIGs are frequently being asked to do more with less, now is the time to consolidate some smaller OIGs to enhance the overall independence, economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the IG community.


Dr. Matthew D. Harris is an associate adjunct professor in the Government and Politics Department (GVPT) at the University of Maryland-University Campus and a graduate associate adjunct professor in the Inspector General Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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