Federal agencies have ignored more than 15,000 recommendations from inspectors generals that could save taxpayers $87 billion per year, a U.S. Senate report reveals.
The new report, prepared by the majority staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, is part of a Republican effort to win Senate approval of legislation that would expand the investigative authority of agency inspectors general, and make them more independent of the agencies they oversee.
The House passed its own version of the legislation in June by a voice vote. A Senate version of the bill, introduced in 2015 by Sen. Charles Grassley (R- Iowa), won committee approval, but has yet to be taken up by the full Senate.
In its report, the Homeland security committee surveyed 72 federal inspectors general, and asked the IGs for the number of “recommendations that have been unimplemented by the Executive Branch, as well as the aggregate potential cost savings of these open recommendations.”
The committee also asked for “detailed description[s] of any agency attempts to interfere with IG independence,” as well as “any incident where the Federal agency or department…resisted or objected to oversight activities of the IG office or restricted or significantly delayed access to information.”
Homeland Security committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said the results of the survey, in addition to the committee’s own investigation, found “more than $87 billion in taxpayer dollars squandered by agencies not implementing more than 15,000 recommendations made by these federal watchdogs.”
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, said inspectors general had found “more than $33 billion in savings at the Pentagon alone.”
“Even at the Department of Agriculture,” Grassley said, “more than 450 unanswered recommendations has allowed the taxpayer to be unnecessarily charged nearly $800 million.”
Grassley federal agencies that had ignored inspectors general recommendations should have their funding cut.
“My colleagues on the Appropriations Committees should cut the funding allocated to these agencies by the amount of the waste,” Grassley said, “given that the agencies could function effectively at a lower funding level by simply implementing the Inspector General recommendations.”
The report identified 15,222 recommendations that federal agencies had ignored.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development had yet to act on 2,106 recommendations from its inspector general, some of which were made 15 years ago.
The Department of Defense inspector general told the committee the potential cost savings from its 829 open recommendations totaled more than $33 billion.
The Health and Human Services inspector general told committee investigators the Department had yet to act on 1,016 recommendations, which could save up to over $23 billion per year.
The committee report also said agency inspectors general met “resistance” when seeking access to records necessary to conduct their audits.
“Eight inspectors general reported trouble accessing records from agency officials,” the report said.
“In the case of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Fund the office had to resort to subpoenas and threats of subpoenas in order to obtain information,” the report said.
Committee investigators said that inspectors general for both the State Department and the Peace Corps “reported an agency policy that restricted [their] access to certain categories of information, supported by a legal opinion from the agency’s office of general counsel.”
Similar problems were identified at the Department of Justice.
The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion in 2015 that restricted the inspector general’s access to information covered by nondisclosure agreements.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee last year, Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz said the opinion posed a “serious threat to the independence” of his office, and “to all Inspectors General.”
“Some agencies see [inspectors general] as a problem or a nuisance—rather than a partner in building a better government,” the report said.
“Congress ought to continue to empower IGs for the benefit of American taxpayers,” the report said, and ensure they have the tools and funding they need to function.