Oversight

IGs say hiring freeze, budget cuts hurt oversight

Shutterstock image: workforce organization chart.

Agency watchdogs said that the hiring freeze negatively affected their operations and raised concerns that the freeze, combined with proposed budget cuts, could jeopardize their ability to conduct effective oversight.

Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee surveyed IGs from two dozen agencies about the effects early actions by the Trump administration had on their oversight work.

“Nearly every” IG surveyed reported that the hiring freeze had a negative effect on operations; “many” expressed concerns about the impact of “inadequate staffing -- from the combination of the hiring freeze and proposed budget cuts,” staffers wrote in a letter to the Democratic committee members.

“Some IGs warned explicitly that their ability to detect and prevent waste, fraud and abuse within federal programs could be impaired … by President Trump’s hiring freeze and his proposed staffing reductions going forward,” the letter said. “For members of Congress seeking to ensure that federal agencies operate effectively and efficiently -- including Republicans -- reducing funding and staffing at IG offices will be counterproductive.”

The letter specifically includes concerns raised by IGs from the Departments of Treasury, State, Education, Interior, Transportation and Defense, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Treasury’s IG said the freeze “will put Treasury at risk of increased fraud and other criminal activity,” while State’s IG reported that the agency faces staffing challenges in oversight of anti-terrorism efforts.

The “opportunity to have greater impact with oversight” on cybersecurity and other issues is “simply not possible at our current levels,” Interior’s IG said. EPA’s IG added that the proposed cuts could impair “our ability to exchange protective intelligence information” with law enforcement.

At DOD, the IG said the timely resolution of sexual assault complaints “will suffer” and that the Pentagon “may face limited or no audit oversight” over the $300 billion it spends annually in acquisition contracts.

In a statement announcing the fiscal year 2017 budget signing, President Donald Trump said of provisions that deny agency funds to impede IG access to records, “I will construe these … consistently with my authority to control the dissemination of information protected by executive privilege.”

This survey is not the first run-in Trump has had with IGs.

During the transition, Trump officials came under fire for threatening to oust agency watchdogs and suggesting that certain IGs’ positions were “temporary.” Soon after, the transition team reversed its initial position.

In April, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the House Oversight Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively, penned a letter to Trump asking his administration to pick up the pace on filling vacant IG posts.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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