The number of successful investigations by inspectors general has more than doubled in 20 years. Does that mean IGs are doing a better job weeding out waste, fraud and abuse in government, or are they creating mountains out of molehills?
Kymm McCabe, founder of ValueStorm Growth Partners, said the increased oversight is creating a “fearful paralysis” in the acquisition community. “We’ve become so focused on using oversight to try to solve every problem, that folks are now just afraid,” McCabe said on In Depth with Francis Rose . “It’s really caused a freeze on communication.”
Many contractors are less willing to talk and get involved with government and IGs, and the same goes for agency officials communicating with contractors.
McCabe recalled one case in which a government official promised to “never again meet with a contractor, but rather ask a non-SES to hold the meetings.” On top of that, the official’s subordinates said they don’t want to seek positions in the Senior Executive Service, saying it’s too risky.
In another instance, IGs were investigating a small firm’s invoices, because of an administrative error. The firm agreed to the terms of repayment. But it didn’t stop there. McCabe said the IGs remained in the firm’s office for several years and eventually found no wrongdoing. The company’s owner ended up selling the firm and leaving the federal market.
“Many report that when IG investigators come to your door, they assume guilt and hang around longer than your in-laws,” McCabe wrote.
McCabe said that has to change to eliminate the fear and lack of communication between auditors and auditees.
“It’s time for us to stop allowing due process to give way to presumption,” she said.
Increased transparency in agencies has encouraged employees and whistleblowers to come forward and report wrongdoing. IGs processed more than 600,000 thousand complaints from their hotlines in 2013. That’s 1,697 complaints per day, or about one complaint every 50 seconds.
Having more employees report complaints to IG hotlines isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the process needs to be more open, McCabe said. IGs should have a conversation with individuals being audited, let them know about the process and see what issues can be resolved through simple communication.