Many months ago I posted a blog about the need to enhance the capabilities of the Inspectors General of several different agencies (see: http://tek-dev.typepad.com/technology-development/2012/12/technology-transfer-and-the-need-for-good-government.html ). The recent IRS scandal is an excellent example of what the Office of Inspector General is supposed to do.
We don’t know all the details yet, but J. Russell George did his job by investigating numerous complaints claiming that the IRS was targeting taxpayer groups based on political position. His office found that at least one IRS office was applying a set of rules that had the effect of being politically slanted. There is now much controversy surrounded some of the details of the investigation and report. Some claim that the investigation did not go near far enough while others claim that it went way overboard. In any case, the IG brought to light practices that need further investigation and significant modification. Though it is not clear that the Congress and the Administration will be able to solve all the problems, there is a lot of bi-partisan dialog on this important topic.
As I pointed out back in December of 2012, we all depend on the Offices of the Inspector General to ferret out not only legal, procedural and financial abuses but also they are supposed to find waste, fraud, incompetence and mismanagement. The IG’s seem pretty good at finding legal, procedural and financial issues. The evidence in these cases is usually pretty sound. There are well defined rules and procedures when it comes to hearings, purchasing, accounting, etc. When it comes to waste, fraud, incompetence and mismanagement, the evidence is softer and evaluation of the evidence would often require subject matter expertise. My experience in the area of energy and alternative fuels has been that the IG’s have not been digging into these softer areas. I have many colleagues who would agree with me that the Department of Energy (DOE) has been especially wasteful and not held accountable. The IG of the DOE may not have the subject matter expertise to adequately investigate the DOE and pass judgment on the effectiveness of policies and decisions. Furthermore, multiple agencies are often involved in energy issues (including USDA and EPA). This can further complicate passing any useful judgment on overall effectiveness. But that might not be the only problem.
There are 73 Federal Offices of Inspectors General. That could be too many. Even a highly regulated country like France has only 4 such offices. That might not be enough (see for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_France ), but 73 offices might be too fragmented or too small to do an adequate job of oversight. Unfortunately, there is also a long history of Inspectors General vacancies not getting filled. Right now, five cabinet level agencies do not have an Inspector General. Furthermore, the departments of State, Homeland Security, Interior and Defense don’t have permanent audit chiefs.
As citizens and tax payers we need to push for strong Inspectors General overseeing all of our government agencies. That means filling vacancies, supplying expert resources and re-organizing as needed. This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of ensuring that we have good government regardless of size and scope.