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Highlights

What GAO Found

During fiscal years 2011 through 2013, the Department of Commerce (Commerce) Office of Inspector General (OIG) experienced reductions in total budgetary resources from about $47 million to about $41 million, or almost 13 percent, compared to the average reduction of about 6 percent for all other cabinet-level OIGs. The Commerce OIG had a decline of full-time equivalent staff from 171 to 137, or about 20 percent, which was a greater decline than the average decline of about 5 percent for the other OIGs. The Commerce OIG reported approximately $543 million in monetary accomplishments from audits, evaluations, and investigations for the period. Differences in missions and programs of the cabinet-level departments and agencies result in varied opportunities for OIGs to provide monetary accomplishments. While the Commerce OIG's return on each budget dollar was within the range of the lowest and highest returns for all other OIGs for fiscal years 2011 through 2013, its average return of $4.18 over the 3-year period was less than the average return of about $22.64 for the other cabinet-level OIGs.

During this period of constrained resources, the Commerce OIG conducted mandatory audits that covered all bureaus and offices and provided performance audit coverage of Commerce's largest bureaus and offices. It also audited areas identified by the OIG as management challenges. However, the OIG did not conduct performance audits of the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of programs specific to Commerce's smaller bureaus and offices, which had combined fiscal year 2013 total budgetary resources of approximately $2.4 billion, during the 3-year period. In addition, the OIG did not conduct audits over the 3-year period of two areas on GAO's high-risk list relevant to Commerce: (1) managing federal real property and (2) ensuring the effective protection of technologies critical to U.S. national security interests. The OIG's risk-based audit planning contributed to gaps in audit coverage as the office did not provide periodic performance audit coverage of Commerce's smaller programs on a rotational basis and did not fully consider all GAO high-risk areas.

The Commerce OIG's hotline policies and procedures were generally consistent with recommended hotline practices of other OIGs provided through the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). However, through a review of a random sample of OIG hotline cases from fiscal years 2011 through 2013, GAO identified numerous instances where the OIG did not follow one or more of its own hotline policies and procedures regarding the processing, disposition, and timeliness of hotline cases. The OIG could not reasonably ensure that its hotline policies and procedures were consistently followed because of a lack of ongoing monitoring of its internal control activities.

The Commerce OIG's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results for 2013 and 2014 improved after OIG efforts to address the poor 2012 FEVS results, but responses to specific survey questions remain lower than the government-wide average. The OIG's efforts followed much of the guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address FEVS results, but they did not include an action plan with measures of success.

Why GAO Did This Study

Congressional committees and Commerce leaders rely on the OIG to provide oversight of the agency's wide range of responsibilities. GAO was asked to review the effectiveness of the Commerce OIG's oversight. GAO's objectives were to provide information on the Commerce OIG's budgets, staffing, and accomplishments, and to review the OIG's effectiveness in providing audit coverage, addressing hotline complaints, and addressing employee concerns identified in OPM's annual FEVS.

For fiscal years 2011 through 2013, GAO identified the budget and staff resources of the Commerce OIG and other cabinet-level OIGs and their reported accomplishments for comparison; reviewed the Commerce OIG's audit coverage of bureaus and offices, management challenges, and high-risk areas; compared the OIG's hotline policies with hotline guidance provided through CIGIE; and tested a random sample of hotline complaints. GAO also reviewed the OIG's efforts to address employee concerns from the 2012 FEVS results.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that the IG (1) augment the OIG's audit planning to consider a rotation of performance audit coverage among smaller Commerce programs, and applicable GAO high-risk areas; (2) include monitoring of internal controls for the OIG's hotline operations; and (3) develop an action plan with measures of success to address FEVS results.

In commenting on a draft of the report, the Commerce IG concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Inspector General To provide increased performance audit coverage of Commerce's bureaus and offices, the Commerce IG should augment the OIG's risk-based audit planning process to consider (1) a rotation of performance audit coverage among the smaller bureaus and offices to help ensure that the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of their programs are periodically reviewed and (2) all applicable high-risk areas identified by GAO.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) concurred with this recommendation. In July 2018, DOC OIG revised the OIG's approach to annual audit planning by implementing a risk-based process to develop potential audit areas for consideration. Specifically, the guidance states that teams should consider key pertinent risk factors in determining whether a program is high risk including (1) absence of prior audit coverage which in itself would be high risk and help to ensure smaller bureaus and offices are considered for audits and (2) GAO high risk area for both departmental-specific risk areas and government-wide risk areas identified by GAO. In addition, on July 31, 2018, DOC OIG executives met to discuss the fiscal year 2019 planning and implementation of the fiscal year 2019 audit planning guidance. The discussion included the need to assess major audit programs and functional areas including smaller bureaus and key risk factors including high risk areas identified by GAO. We have reviewed DOC OIG's fiscal year 2019 audit planning guidance and other supporting documentation DOC OIG provided and believe DOC OIG has met the intent of our recommendation.
Office of the Inspector General To provide reasonable assurance that written hotline policies and procedures are consistently followed and complaints are handled effectively, the Commerce IG should enhance the existing internal control activities for the OIG's hotline operations through monitoring, including self-assessment evaluations conducted by the hotline unit of itself, periodic reviews of control design, and direct testing of internal controls.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) concurred with this recommendation. In fiscal year 2016, DOC OIG performed a self-assessment of its hotline operations, which included (1) evaluating proper handling of complaints; (2) assignment of disposition codes; and (3) time frames for processing complaints. In fiscal year 2017, DOC OIG conducted an internal quality control review, which included assessing the hotline's practices with respect to complaint data entry into Office of Investigation's Case Management System and adherence to internal policies. In addition, DOC OIG conducted several test calls from January 2017 to April 2018 related to its hotline operations. Finally, in fiscal year 2019, DOC OIG provided us its updated complaint management policy, effective September 2018, which contains a requirement for periodic reviews of control design and direct testing of internal controls related to its hotline operations. Specifically, the policy requires DOC OIG (1) review new complaint intake information for substantive and cosmetic errors on an ongoing basis; (2) coordinate periodic test calls to the hotline (contractor) to ensure the DOC OIG obtains adequate and complete information concerning allegations made to the DOC OIG phone line; and (3) be subjected to periodic testing by another OIG operating unit of internal control to ensure the proper handling of complaints; complete and timely referral submissions to DOC operating units and/or other government agencies; and sufficient and timely notification to complainants regarding status of complaint, confidentiality, and closure of matters. We believe that DOC OIG's corrective actions meet the intent of our recommendation.
Office of the Inspector General To reasonably assure that the concerns of OIG employees expressed in their FEVS responses are effectively addressed, the Commerce IG should develop an action plan that includes measures of success.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Commerce's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has developed the OIG Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) Results Fiscal Year 2016 - 2017 Action Plan (dated April 2016). We have reviewed this action plan and verified it includes a list of goals, actions, measure of success, and final delivery dates to assist in monitoring the success and progress toward improving overall OIG resources, communication, empowerment, and awards/recognition. We believe that OIG met the intent of the recommendation by developing an action plan that includes measurements to determine whether the employees' concerns were successfully addressed.

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