Highlights of the Comptroller General's Panel on Federal Oversight and the Inspectors General

GAO-06-931SP: Published: Sep 11, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 2006.

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The Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, (IG Act) created independent offices headed by inspectors general (IG) responsible for conducting and supervising audits and investigations; promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness; and preventing and detecting fraud and abuse in their agencies' programs and operations. To carry out the purposes of the act, the IGs have been granted authorities and responsibilities to provide for their independence and effectiveness. These include the authority to have direct access to all records and information of the agency, to hire staff and manage their own resources, to receive and respond to complaints from agency employees, to request assistance from other government agencies, to issue subpoenas to obtain information and documents, and to administer oaths when taking testimony. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs asked us to review whether additional IG authorities and responsibilities such as those provided in H.R. 2489, as well as other changes, could further enhance the independence and effectiveness of the IGs. Introduced in 2005, H.R. 2489 includes provisions for (1) a defined term of office for the IGs and conditions for removal, (2) IGs to submit their budgets directly to OMB and the Congress without agency review or approval, (3) the statutory establishment of a combined PCIE and ECIE Council, (4) changes in IG investigative and law enforcement authorities, and (5) reporting the results of IG inspections in their semiannual reports. The committee staff also asked us to review IG pay structure issues and qualifications. We also agreed to review recommendations made in our prior report to convert certain DFE IGs to presidential appointment and to consolidate IG offices to increase overall IG independence and effectiveness.

The majority of the panel participants did not favor statutorily establishing a fixed term of office for IGs, but did support a statutory requirement to notify the Congress in writing in advance of removing an IG, with an explanation of the reason for removal. The participants cautioned that this procedure should consist only of notification, without building in additional steps or actions in the removal process. The panel participants also generally agreed that a focus on the reasons for removal is important, but there are many legitimate reasons for removal that go beyond those listed in the pending House bill. The majority of panel participants believed that the current statutory qualifications for presidential IGs are sufficient and emphasized that the correct application of the selection and nomination processes is key for appointing qualified IGs. DFE IGs should have at least the same specific qualifications as specified for the presidential IGs in the IG Act. The panel participants had mixed views about whether the IGs should submit their budgets directly to OMB and to the Congress. The panel participants supported the roles and functions of the current PCIE and ECIE, but had mixed views about statutorily establishing a joint IG council. The panel participants did favor establishing a funding mechanism for an IG council, but recognized the current overall lack of federal funds for this project. Also, the panel participants overwhelmingly supported expanding the language of the IG councils' mission beyond that provided by H.R. 2489. In addition, there was broad-based support among panel members for a governmentwide accountability council to address broad accountability issues among GAO, OMB, PCIE, ECIE, and additional oversight organizations. The majority of panel participants stated that the pay structure for IGs needs to be addressed. The discussion included the importance of providing reasonable and competitive compensation, maintaining the IGs' independence in reporting the results of their work, and possibly providing IGs with performance evaluations that could be used to justify higher pay. The panel participants felt that base pay for IGs should be higher; however, they had mixed views about IGs receiving performance bonuses, primarily because of the uncertainty about the overall framework that would be used to evaluate performance and make the related decisions about bonuses. The panel participants overwhelmingly supported the ability of the DFE IGs to apply to the Attorney General for full law enforcement authority instead of having to renew their authority on a case-by-case basis or through a blanket authority that must be renewed after an established period of time. They also overwhelmingly supported providing the designated federal entities that have DFE IGs the authority under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act to investigate and report false claims and recoup losses resulting from fraud. In addition, the panel participants were unanimous in their support of defining IG subpoena power to include any medium of information and data. In the discussion of additional issues, the panel participants recognized the benefits of IG inspections and evaluations, and supported including the results of this work in the IGs' semiannual reports. Regarding the additional issue of converting DFE IGs to presidential appointment and consolidating IG offices, the panel participants had mixed responses. The panel participants did, however, overwhelmingly support close coordination among the IGs and between the IGs and GAO.

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