WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a joint majority staff report this week, “Empowering Inspectors General: Supporting the IG Community Could Save Billions for American Taxpayers.” The report is a result of information solicited from inspectors general (IGs) across the federal government. The report identifies billions in potential cost savings for the American taxpayer and details circumstances of agencies obstructing IG access to critical information.
“Our investigation reveals more than $87 billion in taxpayer dollars squandered by agencies not implementing more than 15,000 recommendations made by these federal watchdogs,” said Johnson. “Our investigation highlights the numerous obstacles that many inspectors general have faced in trying to root out waste, fraud and abuse. I will continue to hold federal agencies accountable to implement common-sense recommendations to save taxpayer dollars, and will fight to pass our legislation that is critical to strengthening inspectors general.”
“There is no excuse for this kind of waste,” said Grassley. “At some point, agencies and the Obama Administration need to be held accountable for refusing to take corrective action to reduce waste that has been identified by the independent Inspectors General. Watchdogs found more than $33 billion in savings at the Pentagon alone. Even at the Department of Agriculture, more than 450 unanswered recommendations has allowed the taxpayer to be unnecessarily charged nearly $800 million. That’s not the kind of fiscal responsibility Iowans expect of their government. My colleagues on the Appropriations Committees should cut the funding allocated to these agencies by the amount of the waste, given that the agencies could function effectively at a lower funding level by simply implementing the Inspector General recommendations.”
The Committees’ inquiry, conducted over the span of more than a year, identified thousands of open recommendations that have been made by inspectors general across government—many of which, if implemented, would save taxpayer dollars. Moreover, several IGs reported difficulty obtaining information from agencies, demonstrating the difficulty some IGs have in fulfilling their mission to detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
Details of the report:
- The OIGs identified a total of 15,222 recommendations that remain open and unimplemented by the executive branch departments and agencies they oversee. For example, Housing and Urban Development OIG reported the highest number of open and unimplemented recommendations, with a total of 2,106. The open recommendations date back as far as fifteen years—representing more than a decade of unrecovered cost savings to the American taxpayer.
- The OIGs reported to the Committees over $87 billion in aggregate potential cost savings associated with open and unimplemented recommendations. The Department of Defense OIG reported the highest number of potential cost savings associated with open and unimplemented recommendations, totaling over $33 billion in potential cost savings associated with the 829 open recommendations. The Health and Human Services OIG reported the second highest total potential cost savings figure, reporting 1,016 open and unimplemented recommendations, which represent over $23 billion in potential cost savings.
- Inspectors general are encountering agency resistance when seeking access to “all agency records,” as required under the IG Act. Eight inspectors general reported trouble accessing records from agency officials. In the case of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Fund the office had to resort to subpoenas and threats of subpoenas in order to obtain information.
On February 24, 2015, Chairman Johnson held a hearing to consider ways to improve IG independence and effectiveness. The hearing highlighted challenges facing IGs, including their ability to access information. At the hearing, DOJ Inspector General Horowitz labeled access to agency documents and materials to be “of utmost importance” and reported, “We face significant issues and challenges that affect our independence and ability to conduct effective oversight.”
As part of their integral role in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse within the federal government, OIGs identify and make recommendations that could result in saving billions of dollars for the American taxpayers. OIGs also conduct regular investigations into agency activities.
On February 27, 2015, Chairmen Johnson and Grassley sought information from all 72 OIGs across the federal government related to open and unimplemented recommendations, agency attempts to interfere with IG independence, and delays in accessing information, among other things. The Committees requested that OIGs provide responses on a semiannual basis going forward. The staff report is derived from the information provided in the semiannual responses from OIGs.
In response to reports of agency obstruction, Chairman Grassley introduced S. 579, the Inspector General Empowerment Act, and Chairman Johnson brought the bill before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for a markup. S. 579 is designed to ensure that IGs have the tools they need to do their jobs, including clarification that Congress interprets the IG Act as granting IGs the ability to access all agency records that they might need. The bill is supported by 20 Senators, including 13 Republicans and seven Democrats. In May 2015, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the bill with unanimous bipartisan support.
On December 15, 2015, Chairmen Johnson and Grassley requested unanimous consent that the full Senate pass S. 579; however, Senator Harry Reid objected, offering no explanation.
On May 26, 2016, Chairman Johnson incorporated the Inspector General Empowerment Act into S. 3011, the BADGER Washington Act—a package of 19 bills designed to curb government waste and increase protections for whistleblowers.