Blaming the IG?

Martin Wagner's arguments for why auditors and IGs should not be blamed for identifying problems make sense - but only if the auditors and IGs are doing their jobs in an independent, objective, and unbiased way. If the IGs and auditors are not being objective about the alleged problems they are identifying, they can and should be criticized.

In a 1969 Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on the question of whether it was appropriate for the GAO to recommend programs to the Congress, Senator Alan Cranston, a former State Comptroller, expressed his views on that question as follows: "The fundamental point is if they (GAO) make a recommendation and it is adopted by Congress, they then have a sort of vested interest in that particular program, and their independence and their ability to judge is somewhat impaired, and, I think, less reliable."

To name two important examples of what Senator Cranston was worried about, consider the longstanding "failures" on the part of executive-branch departments to comply with the requirements of the CFO Act of 1990 and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. Those failures, of course, have been the subject of a very large number of highly critical GAO reports over the last 20 years — including most of the reports in the GAO's vaunted "High-Risk-Series." Both the CFO Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act, however, became law largely as the result of GAO lobbying and promotion before the Congress of the idea that what the government really needs to win the war against "waste, fraud, and abuse" is: a) produce external financial statements (as required by the CFO Act); and b) develop enterprise architectures to build the financial information systems that can do that (as required by the Clinger-Cohen Act).

Arguably, the single greatest source of waste, fraud, and abuse in government today is to be found in the never-ending efforts to build the enterprise architectures and produce external financial statements that the GAO says the government needs It IS correct to blame IGs and auditors when the problems in question are the direct result of good-faith attempts by government managers to implement what is, in fact, highly questionable management advice that has been issued by those self-same IGs and auditors over the years without any practical regard for the consequences.

Christopher Hanks

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