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Everything about the Defense Department is large. The budgets, the number of people, the number of vehicles, buildings, projects, offices and programs. Also big is the list of management and operational improvement recommendations from the DoD inspector general. For an update, the IG technical director for follow up and quality assurance, Valerie McMichael, spoke to the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Tom Temin: And you issue periodic reports kind of reminding the Pentagon that there are these lists. Give us the sense of the scope of the latest update here?
Valerie McMichael: Sure. So we do issue the compendium annually to list out all of the open recommendations that the DoD has, we provide statistics and trends on that data, we give the overall number of recommendations, the age of the recommendations, associated potential benefits and other information like that on an annual basis.
Tom Temin: So in a sense, it’s almost a data call that you do across the IG and the Pentagon IG offices, quite a big office, pulling in from all the different sectors what it is they’ve got out as recommendations and compile it into this compendium?
Valerie McMichael: Correct. Yes, we spend a few months putting all the information together, we take the time to talk with our senior leaders and just determine what they consider to be the highest priority recommendations. And then we have a good group of people that put this information together and get it distributed. And we hope that it makes an impact.
Tom Temin: Sure. And since you are the technical director for follow up and quality assurance, and this report is 506 pages, you must have some good quality control in the proofreading department.
Valerie McMichael: We do. We go through quite a few rounds of proofreading. Yes.
Tom Temin: Well, it looked letter perfect when I went through it. And how many open recommendations at this point are there from the various IG functions across the Defense Department?
Valerie McMichael: This year, there were 1425 open recommendations as of March 31, which is actually a slight decrease in last year’s compendium.
Tom Temin: And is it fair to say that the list is kind of a flow through that is to say, new ones come on to the unfilled list every year, but they also do get to some of the issues and they get closed and they fly off the list. Fair way to put it?
Valerie McMichael: Yes, absolutely. So since the last compendium, the DoD OIG opened 477 new recommendations, and the DoD closed 508 recommendations. So 392 of those 508 were actually recommendations that were from the 2021 Compendium, so there was some progress made.
Tm Temin: First of all, do they go to the armed services and all of the so called fourth estate agencies? Is this across the board pretty much?
Valerie McMichael: We can make recommendations to any DoD entity. This year, we had recommendations addressed to all of the military services and 42 other DoD components. Some of the smaller DoD organizations don’t have recommendations every single year. But the larger components in the military services almost always have open recommendations that they’re working on. And they’ll pretty much always have recommendations in the compendium.
Tom Temin: And with respect to topic, do the recommendations tend to cluster around say budgetary management or procurement? Or is there a way to characterize them generally?
Valerie McMichael: My team worked to categorize the recommendations into nine topic areas. And the three topic areas that had the most recommendations were information technology, resources, finance and accounting recommendations, and then logistics, and I can give you some examples of recommendation types that would fall into those areas.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Valerie McMichael, she’s technical director for follow up and quality assurance in the Defense Department office of inspector general. Yeah, let’s get to some of those examples. Maybe starting with information technology.
Valerie McMichael: Sure, some types of recommendations that would fall into the information technology resources category, would pertain to things like the functionality and the protection of DOD systems and equipment, cybersecurity, and safeguarding of information, protection of patient health information, for example, in the finance and accounting category, we would have recommendations that relate to DoD financial transactions and processes. Things like internal controls over the business processes to ensure that the transactions are processed in compliance with standards, for example, billing and collection of delinquent medical service accounts. And then in the logistics category, we have recommendations that really tend to pertain to the movement of people and things. Things like transportation of ammunition and explosives, planning and execution of moving the troops in the armed forces, timeliness of household goods and shipments to DoD members. That that type of thing.
Tom Temin: Right? So in some cases, then they interact, the recommendations, I would think, because when it comes to controls and billing, there’s often a systems component underlying that. And that could be out of date. So in many ways, they interweave. Fair to say?
Valerie McMichael: Yes, absolutely. I think almost all of the recommendations could probably touch on multiple topic areas. But when we categorize them, we select the one that is the most prominent.
Tom Temin: And just talking for a moment about finance and logistics. You know, the DoD is the last cabinet department to not be able to offer an unqualified financial statement every year. And that’s according to the GAO. And for many years, there’s been successive programs to improve business processes in the Defense Department. And the projects have had different names. And there’s been a parade of leadership there. Do recommendations also pertain not to just functions, but to programs and projects that might be underway, such as a weapons acquisition program, or a modernization project for a particular function like finance?
Valerie McMichael: Yes, absolutely. Our audits and evaluations can touch on any aspect of the DoD, and they definitely look at various programs, information systems, readiness, medical treatment, facilities and billing. So we can look at absolutely anything across the DoD.
Tom Temin: And when this report is put together, all 506 pages of it, by the way, do you print it, as well as just have a PDF of it?
Valerie McMichael: We print to distribute to the Secretary of Defense.
Tom Temin: Otherwise, besides your the Armed Services Committee, and the different oversight committees, I imagine are interested in this, as well as the Secretary of Defense. Who else does it go to? Does it circulate widely to the people that oversee the programs and projects that have the recommendations?
It does, we distribute to senior DoD leadership, and then we also distribute it to the points of contact within the DoD that my team works with to conduct the follow up. So it is widely distributed across the DoD.
Tom Temin: And just compiling the compendium for you and your staff. Is that a full-time job year-round?
Valerie McMichael: No, no, it’s not. The staff most of the year is working on conducting follow up. Each of my team members is assigned to specific reports and recommendations. And they go out to their DoD contacts on a regular basis to ask for updates on those recommendations. And then, when the DoD is ready to close the recommendations, they submit, usually relatively large packages of information, that my team analyzes, and determines whether or not the recommendations can be closed. So that’s really their full time job. And then the compendium takes about three months of the year.
Tom Temin: And when the Defense Department collectively is able to close, say 544 recommendations in a given year, do you think it’s because of bird dogging from the OIG, because the leadership is coming down on them and saying, “look at this, you’re in this list here this year”, or because they really want to get things better?
Valerie McMichael: I think it’s a combination. Different organizations have different tone at the top. We have, for example, the Air Force in the Army that I think have a lot of focus from their top leadership and their progress over the last few years has really shown that. So those are examples where the tone at the top has really made a big difference. But I think in other cases, they want to make the improvements and benefit from our findings.
Tom Temin: I once heard a high level military officer say that sometimes the job is like giving a speech in a graveyard. There’s lots of people below you, but you’re not sure they hear. In your case, it sounds like the message is getting out. And it must give you some sense of satisfaction to know that.
Valerie McMichael: It does. It’s a really satisfying job. But there’s certainly room for more improvement. You know, not all of the DoD components are as responsible as others.
Tom Temin: All right. Well, you know who you are, so Valerie might come calling. Valerie McMichael is technical director for follow up and quality assurance in the Defense Department office of inspector general.