The title sounds odd: Inspector general.
Not a military commander, but an auditor. A watchdog and the taxpayer’s friend.
An inspector general is the independent official in a federal government agency with the responsibility for identifying waste, fraud and abuse.
But some of the federal government’s largest agencies are without permanent inspectors general in place, sometimes for years, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Departments of Defense, State, Interior and Homeland Security haven’t had permanent inspectors general for between one and five years. Departments lacking permanent watchdogs account for about $843 billion in spending, the newspaper found.
The Journal said nine of 73 inspector general positions are vacant, and that five of six positions for which President Barack Obama must make an appointment lack a nominee. While departments without permanent inspectors general do have acting or deputy inspectors general, that still raises questions about just how independent a temporary watchdog can be.
It’s time to fill these jobs. Surely that’s an issue on which agreement can be found, regardless of party or political philosophy.
A quick review of recent findings by various inspectors general shows the wide variety of mismanagement and waste they have brought to light:
>> It was a draft inspector general’s report that called attention to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups.
>> A Treasury Department inspector general’s report, titled “Collected and Wasted: The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses,” found that the IRS spent an estimated $49 million on at least 220 employee conferences over three years.
>> A special inspector general’s review of Iraq reconstruction efforts found that over the past decade, U.S. taxpayers poured $60 billion in aid into Iraq — but the programs were so mismanaged that even Iraqi leaders questioned whether the effort was worth the cost.
>> A Justice Department inspector general examined the government’s flawed gun-trafficking investigation called “Fast and Furious” and reported that it had lost track of as many as 2,000 weapons.
>> An inspector general’s report blew the whistle on the General Services Administration’s spending of more than $820,000 for a four-day staff meeting that included a clown and a mind reader.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has bemoaned the failure to have enough federal watchdogs keeping track of taxpayer dollars. According to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, Coburn has said, inspectors general saved taxpayers $43.3 billion in 2009.
Coburn and more than a dozen other senators of both parties wrote President Barack Obama earlier this year to urge quick action on filling these vacancies. “The value of the inspectors general goes beyond dollars; these offices also help reveal and prosecute wrongdoing and promote the integrity of government,” the senators wrote.
These officials do important work, saving tax dollars, promoting open government and pointing out when wrongdoing occurs.
The federal government will spend $3.7 trillion this year. Making sure there are independent watchdogs to keep an eye on all that spending should be a top priority.