What is the Office of Inspector General?

In the federal government, the Office of Inspector General is a Congressionally-mandated agent who provides oversight for executive branch functions. Formalized and comprehensive oversight is a relative modern phenomena, authorized by the Inspector General Act of 1978. This may have been a post-Watergate reform; it was signed by President Carter. The Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 amended the 1978 act.

The two major enactments established federal IGs as permanent, nonpartisan, and independent offices in more than 70 federal agencies.

Inspectors general are the watchdogs of the executive branch. They are only federal agency employees who are statutorily mandated to be independent from their agency head.

The Inspector General offices employ special agents and auditors. Their goal is to detect and prevent fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of government (public) resources.

For example, from 2012:

The administrator of the General Services Administration fired her two top deputies, then resigned Monday ahead of an investigation into a conference the agency held in Las Vegas that included commemorative coins, lavish meals, a mind reader and a $75,000 team-building exercise assembling bicycles.

The agency’s inspector general was set to release a yearlong investigation of the four-day conference [held in 2010], whose costs included more than $822,000 spent to fly 300 people to the M Resort Spa Casino outside Las Vegas and entertain them in style, when Martha Johnson, the administrator, abruptly resigned and announced the firings, citing “a significant misstep.”

… [Johnson] served as the General Service Administration’s chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

And from 2014:

[T]he C.I.A.’s inspector general found that C.I.A. officers had hacked computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Federal inspector generals operate independently from one another, but they share information via the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).

From the Congressional Research Service, November 2013:

On January 9, 2007, the Senate agreed, by unanimous consent, “that nominations to the Office of Inspector General, except the Office of Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency, be referred in each case to the committee having primary jurisdiction over the department, agency or entity, and if and when reported in each case, then to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for not to exceed 20 calendar days, except that in cases when the 20-day period expires while the Senate is in recess, the committee shall have an additional 5 calendar days after the Senate reconvenes to report the nomination and that if the nomination is not reported after the expiration of that period, the nomination be automatically discharged and placed on the executive calendar.” Sen. Harry Reid, “Executive Nominations,” remarks in the Senate, Congressional Record, vol. 153, part I, January 9, 2007, p. 487

From the Congressional Research Service, December 2014:

In August 2014, 47 federal IGs wrote a letter to leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform indicating difficulties in acquiring records or other information from the agencies with which they are affiliated. The letter stated that certain agencies’ unwillingness to provide requested information represents “potentially serious challenges to the authority of every Inspector General and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.” The IGs asked Congress to provide “a strong, generally applicable reaffirmation” of Congress’s intentions in the IG Act to require agencies to provide federal OIGs with access to all requested records and information.


Which IGs are confirmed by the Senate?

The Senate confirms the IGs for the 15 Cabinet departments and some larger federal agencies.

Two permanent executive agencies operate under their own statutory authorities, the Inspector General in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

These IGs can be removed by the President but not by the agency head (source).

It is not unheard of for IGs to serve across multiple administrations. Glenn Fine served as the IG for the Department of Justice from December 2000 to January 2011. The office then remained vacant for 14 months.


Criticism of the Obama Administration

Obama began his public efforts at government at his first Cabinet meeting, “where he publicly tasked his agency heads to cut unnecessary programs.” But he has thumbed his nose at the offices of Inspector General.

In May 2010, the Center for Public Integrity chastised the Obama administration for ongoing vacancies — at least 15 of the 73 positions — among the inspectors general, chief auditors, or whistleblower protection jobs.

The State Department, for instance, has been without its chief watchdog since early 2008 when President George Bush’s inspector general appointee resigned after a controversy involving investigations into spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the Central Intelligence Agency, often in the limelight with its sweeping spy powers, hasn’t had a presidentially appointed inspector general since the most recent appointee retired in March 2009.

Some of the criticism should fall on Congress, however. From the same report:

In November, [President Obama] nominated Arthur Elkins Jr. to be the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency. But almost six months later, Elkins still hasn’t been confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, leaving the EPA’s top watchdog job occupied on an acting basis by a career official.

In June 2015, the Project on Government Oversight testified at a Congressional hearing that the Obama administration took on average 613 days to fill an inspector general vacancy.

This compares unfavorably with other recent administrations and suggests a distressing trend when you compare Democratic presidents with Republican ones.

Inspector General vacancies on average:

  • 224 days under Ronald Reagan
  • 280 days under George W. Bush
  • 337 days under George H.W. Bush
  • 453 days under Bill Clinton
  • 623 days under Barack Obama

List of open IG positions

OIGs in established agencies

  1. Agency for International Development (AID-OIG)
  2. Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS-OIG)
  3. Department of Agriculture (USDA-OIG)
  4. Department of Commerce (DOC-OIG)
  5. Department of Defense  (DOD-OIG)
  6. Department of Education (ED-OIG)
  7. Department of Energy (DOE-OIG)
  8. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG)
  9. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG)
  10. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD-OIG)
  11. Department of the Interior (DOI-OIG)
  12. Department of Justice (DOJ-OIG)
  13. Department of Labor (DOL-OIG)
  14. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (DOS-OIG)
  15. Department of Transportation (DOT-OIG)
  16. Department of the Treasury (Treasury OIG)
  17. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA-OIG)
  18. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-OIG)
  19. Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (EIB-OIG)
  20. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC-OIG)
  21. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA-OIG)
  22. General Services Administration (GSA-OIG)
  23. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA-OIG)
  24. Office of Personnel Management (OPM-OIG)
  25. Small Business Administration (SBA-OIG)
  26. Social Security Administration (SSA-OIG)
  27. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA-OIG)
  28. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)
  29. US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC-OIG)
  30. US Railroad Retirement Board (RRB-OIG)

OIGs in Designated Federal Entities

  1. Amtrak
  2. Appalachian Regional Commission
  3. System and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  4. Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  5. Consumer Product Safety Commission
  6. Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  7. Defense Intelligence Agency
  8. Denali Commission
  9. Election Assistance Commission
  10. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  11. Farm Credit Administration
  12. Federal Communications Commission
  13. Federal Election Commission
  14. Federal Labor Relations Authority
  15. Federal Maritime Commission
  16. Federal Reserve Board of Governors
  17. Federal Trade Commission
  18. Legal Services Corporation
  19. National Archives & Records Administration
  20. National Credit Union Administration
  21. National Endowment for the Arts
  22. National Endowment for the Humanities
  23. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  24. National Labor Relations Board
  25. National Reconnaissance Office
  26. National Science Foundation
  27. National Security Agency
  28. Peace Corps
  29. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
  30. Postal Regulatory Commission
  31. Smithsonian Institution
  32. U.S. International Trade Commission
  33. U.S. Postal Service
  34. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Other Offices of IG

  1. Architect of the Capitol
  2. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA-OIG)
  3. Government Printing Office
  4. Library of Congress
  5. Office of the Intelligence Community IG
  6. Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction
  7. Special IG for Troubled Asset Relief Program
  8. U.S. Capitol Police

What is an Inspector General