Tester to government watchdogs: Americans need you

Senator tells Inspectors General their work 'saves taxpayers billions, builds trust'

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today told a group of the nation’s leading government watchdogs that their work saves taxpayers money, holds officials accountable and rebuilds trust in government.

Senator Tester speaks to the Council of Inspectors General

Speaking to an annual gathering of Inspectors General – federal investigators whose mission it is to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in government – Tester said the inspectors’ jobs are more critical than ever with taxpayer dollars “at a premium” and skepticism of government high after recent federal overreach.

“In this tough financial climate, we need to empower folks who are willing to move to the frontlines in the fight against waste, fraud and abuse,” Tester said.  “The American people deserve that, and they want to see the results.  We must make sure every dollar is spent as wisely as possible, and I’m proud to stand with you in this fight.”

Tester addressed the conference as the new chairman of the Senate Government Affairs subcommittee dedicated to improving government efficiency and effectiveness.  He said he would empower government watchdogs and help them make sure taxpayer dollars are getting to Americans in their communities.

Tester highlighted a recent report showing that the federal government could save $67 billion if it implements thousands of unmet watchdog recommendations.  He also noted that there are currently eight federal departments or agencies that lack a permanent Inspector General.

“Your hard work not only keeps federal agencies on a tighter leash and running more efficiently, but it also helps change minds,” Tester said.  “The value of your work cannot be overstated and strong, confirmed Inspectors General will stop more abuse.  I’ll keep pressing the Administration and Congress until the job is done.”

“It won’t be easy,” Tester said as he concluded his remarks.  “But we’re going to push policies that force government agencies to work together and deliver services to the ground.”

Tester’s subcommittee will hold its first hearing on Thursday.  It will identify ways that federal agencies can better work together, and with local providers, to improve the delivery of health care to rural America.

Tester’s remarks to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency are available below.

Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency

U.S. Senator Jon Tester

May 21, 2013

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.

Thank you for the opportunity to share a few words.  And thank you for that nice introduction, Peg.

It’s good to be here with folks committed to saving taxpayer money, increasing government efficiency, and improving the work we do for all Americans.

In that vein, I can’t say I’m surprised that you are having your annual meeting just a subway ride away from Capitol Hill instead of a resort somewhere.

On behalf of American taxpayers, I want to thank you for your hard work. 

You have some of the toughest jobs in government.  After all, I-Gs aren’t the most loved folks in government – even though you should be. 

I know that when you call an agency head or a division chief, they don’t often run to pick up the phone.  And you frequently have to fight for the records, budgets and documents that you need to do your jobs.

But you’re not dealing with these hassles for fun. 

You’re doing it because you believe that government works best when it is honest, efficient, and effective.

And as we’ve seen lately, we need more public servants that share your ideals to keep government on the straight and narrow.

Recent actions by some employees at the IRS do not represent the honest work done by the vast majority of our public servants.  Government workers make sure that older Americans get their Social Security checks on time, that veterans get the benefits they earned, and that everyone has a fair shot at the American dream.

And they put in long hours knowing that their good work and their successes probably won’t make the nightly news.

But what happened at IRS reminds us why we need strong Inspectors General on the job.  The reality is that we need someone looking in on government workers to make sure they are holding everyone to the same standards.

Every year, you identify billions of dollars in potential savings.  Beyond what we’ve seen in the news, here are some examples of how you save taxpayer money, promote transparency, and combat wrongdoing in public agencies:

  • A recent report by the House Oversight Committee found that government could save 67 billion dollars if it implemented thousands of your unmet recommendations.
  • According to the Inspector General’s office at the Defense Department, the Army bought nearly 900 million dollars’ worth of spare parts for an armored fighting vehicle – even as those parts became obsolete and unnecessary.
  • And in March, the Energy Department’s Inspector General found that a senior Energy official improperly approved contractor salaries that would have cost taxpayers 3.5 million dollars.

And we all know that these are just a few examples. 

As important as it is to spend taxpayer dollars appropriately, your contributions to the public go beyond dollars and cents.  Another Energy Department report found that the hiring of unqualified contractors contributed to a security gap that allowed activists to infiltrate a Tennessee nuclear laboratory last year.

The fact is: without independent investigators like you, we’d have a harder time keeping the American people safe, holding folks accountable for their decisions, and maintaining the public’s trust in government.

As the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee charged with increasing government efficiency and creating a more efficient federal workforce, I will have your back.

After all, it’s your work that makes my job easier.

Earlier this year, I told the President that he needs to move more quickly to fill vacant Inspector General positions at some of our most critical federal agencies. 

The lack of appointed and confirmed Inspectors General means that we don’t have tough, permanent watchdogs on the job at big-budget departments like Defense and Homeland Security. 

And while I know you are all fighting to hold your agencies accountable, I also know your jobs become a lot easier when folks understand that you’re on the job for the long-term, and they can’t just wait you out.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when, at a Governmental Affairs hearing earlier this month, a high-ranking Social Security official told me that the lack of confirmed I-Gs makes it difficult for officials there to force agencies and divisions to open up their books.

And if you can’t see what’s in the books, you’re going to have a tough time making sure government is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.

In this tough financial climate, we can’t have that.  We need to empower folks who are willing to move to the frontlines in the fight against waste, fraud and abuse. 

The American people deserve that, and right now their taxpayer dollars are at a premium.  We absolutely cannot afford to waste their hard-earned money. 

Whether it’s a lavish retreat or an unnecessary weapons purchase, we must make sure every dollar is spent as wisely as possible.  Because every time a story breaks about millions of dollars of wasted government money, it makes it that much harder to rebuild the public’s trust in government.

Strong, confirmed Inspectors General will stop more of that abuse from happening in the first place.  And I’ll keep pressing the Administration and Congress until the job is done.

My subcommittee will support you by actively looking for ways to improve the efficiency of federal programs. 

It won’t be easy, but we’re going to push policies that force government agencies and workers to work together and deliver services to the ground.

In fact, our first hearing, which will be this Thursday, will look at ways we can get departments like HHS and the VA to work with local care providers to improve health care services in rural America.

That way, the taxpayers – whose hard-earned dollars support the government – will benefit from its services.

In Washington, we talk a lot about budgets and reports and making things work more efficiently.

But let me tell you something, folks out in Montana and all across America just want to see the results. 

They want to know that when I announce a new initiative to help veterans, their neighbor who fought in Vietnam is going to get better health care.  They want to know that when a government official announces a new federal courthouse, the contract won’t go to someone who donated to their last campaign.

I can tell you this because it’s what I hear every weekend when I go back to my farm in north-central Montana.  My farm, which was homesteaded by my grandparents just over a century ago, is located outside the town of Big Sandy.  Population: 600.

Folks from small-towns like Big Sandy have a lot of skepticism about government.  And they let me know about it every time I stop by my local hardware store or take my wheat to the grain elevator.

But YOU make my job easier – both as a farmer and as a Senator.  Your hard work not only keeps federal agencies on a tighter leash and running more efficiently, but it also helps to change hearts and minds in towns like Big Sandy.

The value of your work cannot be overstated – especially with the recent examples of government overreach.

I stand ready to fight with you on the front lines of making government work better – whether that’s in Washington, D.C. or in Big Sandy, Montana.  

Because when we work together, people’s lives improve.  And their faith in government increases.

That’s why your jobs are so critical.  Every day you go to work and keep government on the straight and narrow is another day that more folks on the ground get the support they need.  More roads get built, more kids get a good education, and more veterans get the benefits they earned.

I’m proud to stand with you in this fight.  Both as a Montana farmer and as a U.S. Senator. 

I look forward to working with you.  Thank you very much for inviting me today.  Stay in touch, and keep up the good work.