IG warns that mandatory audits could strain resources

A federal inspector general told a Senate subcommittee Dec. 2. that IGs need the authority to set their own priorities and point their resources where they are most needed rather than adhere to mandatory audit rules.

Peggy Gustafson, chairwoman of the legislation committee for the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, said IGs are concerned that statutory requirements for investigations into whistleblower allegations and deadlines mandating the completion of an investigation could burden the government's IG offices.

“Such mandates undermine the ability of [the IGs] to independently set priorities and create the potential for finite resources to be diverted from other high-impact investigations that may better serve taxpayers’ interest,” Gustafson told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee in testimony.

Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-Mo.), the subcommittee’s chairwoman, held the hearing to get input on her proposed Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 241). The legislation would bolster whistleblower protections for government contractors and other non-federal employees. McCaskill introduced the bill in January, but the committee has not acted on it.

Gustafson, who is also the Small Business Administration’s IG, told the subcommittee that IG office resources would be strained if Congress were to expand the potential pool of contractor employee whistleblower complaints to all government contracts, grants and payments.

However, McCaskill said public accountability might be lost without these statutes regarding investigations. Without a timeline, IGs would not be hard-pressed to finish an investigation, she said.

Gustafson said McCaskill’s bill would provide public accountability. IGs would have to respond to the whistleblower about whether investigators intend to pursue the complaint. IGs would have to include in their semi-annual reports a list of the complaints that were not investigated. The person who brought up complaint would also have access to the courts if the IG decides against an investigation.

The hearing also reviewed whether current whistleblower protections for contractors working under Defense Department and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contracts have worked.

One of the key provisions in the ARRA allows IG to investigate complaints from workers who are not federal employees.

“Efforts to provide for IG discretion as to whether to open an investigation are very important,” she said.

The council surveyed IGs on ARRA and other legislative proposals. Of the surveyed IG offices, only eight of them received a total of 18 reprisal complaints—with 11 being investigated. The majority of the eight IGs that received complaints did not experience any problems or concerns with implementing the provision or in responding to complainants’ request to access the completed investigation file.

However, several IGs said they had problems beginning an investigation after receiving a complaint from a contractor, meeting the ARRA’s disclosure requirements, and the statutory six-month deadline for completing the investigation.

About the Author

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

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