IGs say budget cuts to their offices will do more harm than good

Inspectors general from 24 different agencies say President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze in combination with budget cuts could put their oversight missions at risk and as a result possibly cost the nation more money than it could save.

A May 3 survey from the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found inspectors general fear inadequate staffing from budget cuts and the hiring freeze would hinder their ability to “detect and prevent waste, fraud and abuse within federal programs.”

Democrats say plans to reduce funding for IG offices are “counterproductive.”

“The best way to reduce fraud in a program like disability insurance or at an agency like the EPA is not a blanket reduction in the agency’s budget, but to fund [IGs] and enforcement offices that rein in that abuse,” the survey stated.

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Liz Hempowicz, policy counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, agreed.

“This administration has spoken about a commitment to rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse at the federal level. The way to do that is not by gutting the staffs of the inspectors general. The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency has estimated that potential savings reflect about a $17 return on every $1 invested in the IGs. Reducing IG resources is not the way to demonstrate a commitment to limiting government waste,” Hempowicz told Federal News Radio.

The Government Accountability Office reported past hiring freezes caused decreased oversight of federal programs by making it difficult for IG offices to do their jobs, the survey stated.

The survey pointed out several instances where lack of oversight will have an effect, including increased fraud at the Treasury Department, issues with cybersecurity at the Interior Department and the oversight of $300 billion in acquisitions at the Defense Department.

The memo stated in 2015 IGs “resulted in significant improvements to the economy and efficiency of programs governmentwide, with potential savings totaling approximately $36.6 billion.” In 2015, IGs secured more than 5,000 successful prosecutions as well.

Trump’s budget cuts $54 billion from domestic funding, which may translate to less funds for IG offices.

The hiring freeze, implemented in January, also ruffled feathers in the IG community.

“As careful stewards of taxpayer money, we fully appreciate and respect the importance of prudently allocating federal resources,” said Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department IG, during the Feb. 1 hearing. “However, given our track record of returning to the Treasury far more money than we are budgeted, we believe careful consideration should be given before impacting our ability to root out waste, fraud and abuse.”

Trump lifted the hiring freeze in March, calling for agencies to analyze their efforts in a major government reorganization.

The executive order gives agencies 180 days to submit to the Office of Management and Budget a plan to reorganize the agency.

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