The federal government’s five dozen inspectors general — tasked with rooting out government mismanagement everywhere from the Pentagon to the Postal Service — collectively identified $43.3 billion in potential savings in fiscal 2009, according to a report published last week by the Government Accountability Office. Given their 2009 budget authority of $2.3 billion, taxpayers would earn an $18 return on every dollar invested in inspectors general if the potential savings were fully enacted, the report said.
Thirty presidentially-appointed inspectors general, and another 33 watchdogs at independent and smaller agencies, employ more than 13,600 auditors and investigators who are tracking waste, fraud and abuse across the federal government. They’re the ones responsible for reports of illegal cellphone use in federal prisons, checks sent to dead federal workers, federal courthouses with too much vacant space, and yes, those now-infamous $16 muffins.
In 2009, GAO said watchdogs reported 6,100 indictments as a result of their work, as well as 4,400 suspensions and debarments of contractors, lawyers and government officials, and took 5,900 criminal actions and 1,100 civil actions again individuals or companies.
And even as Republican presidential candidates spend time on the campaign trail railing against financial regulatory reforms, GAO said the bill they most dislike — the Dodd-Frank Act — is providing several watchdogs with enhanced budgetary and political authority.
Passed in the wake of the 2008 global economic meltdown, Dodd-Frank required several regulatory agencies to pay watchdogs a salary on par with senior officials, allow them access to outside legal counsel and to publish separate budget requests for their offices.
Of the 26 watchdog offices directly affected by changes enacted by Dodd-Frank, 14 said the legislation is enhancing their independence and most said they are being paid at or above required pay levels, usually at rates consistent with senior-level career staff.
Inspectors general are also hard at work tracking the progress of the 2009 economic stimulus program. As of June, GAO said watchdogs have opened more than 1,500 stimulus-related investigations, completed 1,400 reviews and had more than 2,000 training sessions related to detecting and preventing stimulus waste, fraud and abuse.
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