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Oversight Matters: What's Next for Inspectors General

This report focuses on four areas where the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Oversight and Inspectors General identifies recommendations to improve oversight capacity through the work of the inspectors general (IGs):

  • Congress and the Inspectors General;
  • Independence and the IG-Agency Relationship;
  • Evolution of the IG Community; and
  • Growing IG Capacity.

The task force makes recommendations to Congress, agency and department heads, the IGs themselves, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), and the president.

The first section centers on ways in which Congress and the IGs can enhance oversight of the executive branch. IGs report to both Congress and their respective agencies. This special relationship empowers IGs to notify Congress when an agency or department attempts to thwart their responsibilities under the law. The task force finds that Congress can better leverage the work of IGs to encourage agency action on IG recommendations. It is also clear that the IGs and Congress do not always understand each other’s oversight role and priorities. Both should strive for more consultation and communication. The IG community should also develop protocols for handling congressional requests so that Congress has clear expectations for IG work. A successful relationship between IGs and Congress is found where there is consistent and open communication.

The second section of the report covers the independence of the IGs and their relationship with the agencies they oversee. In a highly charged political environment, the IGs’ independent and nonpartisan work is crucial for our democracy. In addition to enforcement and compliance, the task force encourages IGs to focus on enhancing agency management and performance. While strict firewalls remain in place between the IGs and their agencies’ leaders, today’s complex government requires IGs to interact routinely with agency management to identify risks and head off failures before they occur. The task force also considered the current and future role of IGs with respect to the growing movement to adopt evidence-based policymaking. IGs already contribute to these efforts in a limited way, but need additional resources and training if they are to expand further in this area.

The third section discusses the evolving role of the IGs and CIGIE. The council was formed in 2008 to coordinate and support the work of all IGs across the federal government. The task force is supportive of the growing role of CIGIE, but finds that dedicated funding could allow the council to better fulfill its mission, enhance the work of all IGs, and make the government more accountable and effective. The council should also consider ways to improve its own governance.

The fourth section focuses on expanding the capacity of IGs. Congressionally-mandated reporting consumes a significant portion of IG resources, and current requirements ought to be reviewed and updated. The IG community should explore ways to improve their work products so that they are more accessible to their intended audience. The IG community should also take advantage of opportunities to share services and staff. To be effective, IG offices must be led by permanent and experienced appointees. The task force views current IG vacancies with alarm and urges the president and Senate to move swiftly on nominations and confirmations.

The IGs provide an excellent return on the taxpayers’ investment in their work and have become a critical part of the checks and balances in our democratic system. The task force is confident that the recommendations in this report will lead to even better returns in the future.

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