Awards honor federal watchdogs

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 6:02 PM

Politicians talk plenty about rooting out waste, fraud and abuse, but the folks who actually find the corruption enjoyed a few brief moments in the limelight Tuesday.

The nation's federal watchdogs honored 85 of their own at an awards ceremony consistent with the work ethic of many inspectors general: It started on time and lasted an hour, as promised. It featured no refreshments or souvenirs and no long-winded acceptance speeches.

Members of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which hosted the event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, said privately that keeping the event short and to the point would avoid any appearance of gloating.

But why not celebrate? Inspectors general recovered more than $8.9 billion in federal funds in fiscal 2009 and identified $44 billion in potential savings, more than double than in the previous year, according to the council. Watchdog investigations resulted in 5,900 successful criminal prosecutions and 4,485 suspensions or debarments of delinquent individuals or contractors, the group said. Dozens of federal inspector general offices fielded 417,349 calls to telephone tip lines and published more than 7,000 audits, evaluations and other reports.

The council's most prestigious prize, the Alexander Hamilton Award, went to a team of Defense Department auditors who investigated whether the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund was used properly. The Commerce Department Office of Inspector General was recognized for a series of reports on the planning and execution of the 2010 Census, including a report that found the U.S. Census Bureau paid temporary workers who were trained but did no work. The Treasury inspector general for tax administration was honored for a review of threats against Internal Revenue Service employees after a February plane crash at IRS offices in Austin. In all, more than 20 watchdog offices received honors at the ceremony.

H. David Kotz, inspector general for the Securities and Exchange Commission, was part of a five-member team that received an award for a nine-month investigation detailing how the agency failed to detect and stop Bernard L. Madoff's ponzi scheme, which left thousands of retirees and charities financially ruined.

Kotz and his colleagues reviewed more than 3.7 million e-mails, interviewed 140 witnesses, and spent late nights and weekends on the investigation while conducting several other unrelated probes.

"It's a great honor to have the appreciation of our peers and to be recognized for the work that we did," he said. But seeing the SEC implement changes recommended by his audits is even better.

"There've been significant changes at the SEC in the ways it does business in the enforcement and compliance side," Kotz said. "I think the SEC is in a much better position to detect fraud today than it was prior to our report."

And how did Kotz and his colleagues celebrate Tuesday's big win?

"We got back to work," he said.

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