Nearly 17,000 recommendations from agency inspectors general remain pending that if fully implemented would save more than $67 billion, says a staff report prepared for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to be held this morning.
“These figures reflect the most conservative possible accounting of the number and dollar value of the IGs’ open and unimplemented recommendations. It is likely that both totals are significantly higher,” it says.
The hearing, focusing on the Education and Transportation Departments, is the first of a planned series on how agencies are responding to reports from IGs, which are independent offices within agencies that audit programs and investigate possible waste, fraud and abuse.
Agencies with the most recommendations not implemented include the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, the Agency for International Development, and the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the report.
Of those, only HHS and VA currently have a Senate-confirmed IG in place. There is a “correlation between the absence of a permanent inspector general and a high volume of open and unimplemented recommendations,” the report says, adding that currently eight of the 73 IG positions are vacant.
In 2011, the work of the IGs yielded $33 billion in savings and prevention of losses from audit recommendations agreed to by management and from investigative receivables and recoveries, the report says.
However, it says the number and potential value of recommendations not deemed to be implemented — agencies may be in the process of carrying out an unknown number of them — has grown from about 10,900 and $29 billion in 2009, when Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), then the ranking minority member, began surveying IGs.
Among the most common areas of concern to IGs are information technology security and oversight of contractors, including not recouping payments found to be improper.
In testimony prepared for the hearing, Education Department IG Kathleen S. Tighe says the department has “longstanding challenges” with following up on audits and that failure to address previously identified problems is “far too common.”
In his prepared testimony, Deputy Education Secretary Anthony Miller says that in the last year, his department has “dramatically improved our ability to identify and resolve high-priority audits in a timely manner, and we are finding new ways to leverage audits to make targeted improvements in other critical areas.”
Issa last week wrote to Cabinet departments saying they should look first to such potential savings. He asked them to identify programs no longer needed to meet the agency’s goals and potential spending reductions “that would be more beneficial to the American people than across-the-board sequestration.”
“As Congress and the Administration work to identify new ways to save money, they would be well-served by implementing the recommendations of the IG community. If evidence continues to mount that the Administration is dismissive of the work of the IG community, Congress should aggressively incorporate unimplemented recommendations into legislative actions,” the report says.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), said in his opening statement that “The irony is that we are holding a hearing today on IG recommendations to make these two agencies more effective and efficient, but it will be more difficult for these agencies to implement these recommendations while their budgets are being cut and their employees are being furloughed. Even IG offices themselves will feel the negative effects of sequestration, hindering their ability to conduct the very oversight work we are praising them for today.”