January 4, 2012

INSPECTORS GENERAL in the federal government are about as popular as internal affairs bureaus within police departments. Yet they play a vital role in keeping government honest by unearthing fraud, abuse and other improprieties.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the 73 federal Offices of Inspectors General saved taxpayers $43.3 billion in 2009 as a result of audits and investigations. Compared to the IGs’ combined budget of $2.3 billion, the study reported, the “savings represent about an $18 return on every dollar invested.” The amount of money saved or recovered does not take into account the thousands of civil and criminal actions triggered by IG investigations.

Yet the Center for Public Integrity noted in 2010 that 15 of the 73 inspector general posts were vacant, including those for important national security components such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

The Obama administration was slow to fill these slots but has made laudable progress in the last year. The president filled the CIA slot last fall, and, after an unjustifiably long delay, the Senate finally confirmed President Obama’s pick to fill the IG post at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Currently eight IG slots are open, but Mr. Obama has put forward quality nominees for several. Michael E. Horowitz, a veteran federal prosecutor and currently a partner with a top-flight law firm, has been nominated for the Justice Department position vacated when Glenn A. Fine left the job nearly one year ago. Mr. Horowitz, nominated in late July, was recently approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee and should quickly be confirmed. Roslyn A. Mazer, who served as IG for the Office of Director of National Intelligence, has been tapped to fill the top IG slot at the Department of Homeland Security.

The State Department position has not been filled with a confirmed chief for nearly five years; it is occupied in an acting capacity by a career foreign service employee. The IG’s office came under attack last year for allegedly shoddy audits of overseas operations. The State Department’s increasing role in Iraq in the aftermath of the military’s withdrawal calls for filling this position quickly with a tough-minded and qualified individual.