Procurement chief chides IGs

Paul Denett speaks out against auditors who he says may be overstepping their bounds

Reinforcing IG independence

Lawmakers are moving new legislation to help agency inspectors general fulfill their oversight role.

A Senate bill, S. 2324, which the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Nov. 14, would protect the independence of IGs and ensure that they have the necessary resources to conduct audits and investigations.

The bill also would establish a committee to investigate allegations of wrongdoing against IGs and their staff members.

The committee passed the bill after a series of testimonies by IGs who said they felt top agency officials had tried to intimidate them.

John Helgerson, the CIA’s IG, is under internal investigation for his activities as IG. Lurita Doan, the General Services Administration’s administrator, has been critical of her agency’s IG office and has tried to cut the budget and responsibilities of the office.

“Our agency IGs face many challenges to do their jobs with limited budgets, resources and staff,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who introduced the bill.

The House passed similar legislation with overwhelming support.

— Matthew Weigelt

The Office of Management and Budget’s Paul Denett said some agency inspectors general are emboldened now more than in the past, often to the point of essentially directing agencies’ programs.

Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said he believes some IGs are overstepping the boundaries of their statutory role, adding that “they get aggravating sometimes.”

Those comments, which Denett made at a recent industry conference, highlight the growing strained relations between IGs and the agencies they oversee. Auditors and procurement experts say the relationship has become tense at some agencies.

Denett said IGs are making program managers and contracting officers overly concerned about making mistakes. As a result, managers are reluctant to exercise their best business judgment when they buy goods and services for the government.

IGs “are not the program managers,” Denett said at a conference in Arlington, Va., hosted by the Coalition for Government Procurement. “When they become so dominant, that’s not healthy. The IG serves a purpose, but it needs to be limited to core areas. They need to act professionally.”

Some federal employees might quietly share Denett’s views about IGs and discuss them around the water cooler, but few people are as public with their opinions as Denett has been, said Marthena Cowart, former assistant IG for congressional affairs for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. She now is a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

Cowart said IGs worked in the background for a long time, and people paid them little attention. However, that has changed as the IG has become a center of controversy at the General Services Administration, the CIA and other agencies.

Democratic lawmakers are investigating whether IGs can perform their jobs without political interference.

The IG’s job is to audit and investigate, said Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. However, he added, IGs sometimes make errors in their audits, which can lead them to make bad recommendations.

Williams said he believes the Defense Department’s IG Office erred when it concluded that DOD officials wasted $607,000 by using GSA’s Office of Assisted Acquisition Services to place 91 task orders on an Air Force information technology contract.

Williams said auditors didn’t have all the facts in making that judgment but, he added, DOD’s IG was not overstepping boundaries.

Most administrations — particularly this one — dislike IGs, said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. “The Bush people have done everything possible to circumscribe IG authority,” he said. Referring to Denett’s comments about IGs, Light added that “this is the latest effort to chill the investigatory and audit range of the offices.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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