McCaskill: IGs need greater authority

After hearing from several agencies' inspectors general, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said IGs should have the same authority as federal prosecutors, especially concerning the power to issue subpoenas.

At an April 21 hearing on contracting oversight, McCaskill said IGs should have the authority to compel contractor employees to answer questions regarding alleged contracting fraud.

Current rules hinders IGs because they don’t give them the same power that prosecutors have, several IGs told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, led by McCaskill.

Under current rules, contractor employee can refuse to talk with IGs and auditors, said Brian Miller, the General Services Administration’s IG.

Miller and several other IGs urged McCaskill to propose legislation that would grant them more rights to combat fraud, thereby putting their authority on a level with that of prosecutors. For example, a prosecutor issuing a grand jury subpoena isn't required to notify the person being subpoenaed before beginning an investigation. But an IG must tell a contractor it is under investigation before he or she can obtain the company’s financial records.

“Premature disclosure can lead to destruction of evidence, intimidation of witnesses or flight,” Miller said, adding that it also all but prevents undercover work. Therefore, allowing IGs to use prosecutors’ investigative techniques should be a priority.

IGs also need more authority to gain access to government databases that have information on contractors, said Richard Skinner, IG at the Homeland Security Department. Under current rules, IGs must get agencies’ permission to access their databases on contractor employees and their lists of contractors that are excluded from government contracting so the IGs can match that data to information in other databases.

“Because [IGs] rarely control the databases to be matched, valuable effort and time [are] lost persuading the agency system managers that matching is appropriate and necessary,” Skinner said.

McCaskill concurred, saying that having served as Missouri’s state auditor, she knows that audit offices can’t do their work without computer matching.

About the Author

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

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