Agencies are missing out on hefty savings by failing to listen to their inspectors general, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.
The review, based on a survey of all 73 IGs, found that the number of recommendations awaiting final agency action last year totaled almost 17,000 — a 70 percent increase from 2009. The dollar value of the potential savings amounted to more than $67 billion, more than twice the potential savings reported in 2009.
The figures prompted bipartisan headshaking at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been compiling the data since 2009.
“It is clear that more needs to be done,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat.
As agencies face workforce and contracting cutbacks related to sequester-related spending reductions, many of those cutbacks “can be avoided if we look for win-win savings,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. said.
Under Office of Management and Budget guidelines, agencies are supposed to settle audit findings within six months. But at the Education Department, it has sometimes taken years to reach resolution on specific audits, Inspector General Kathleen Tighe told lawmakers at the hearing. Because the statute of limitations ran out on some audits, the department missed the chance to recover $415 million, she said.
Education Deputy Secretary Anthony Miller acknowledged the need for improvement, but said that the agency has already reduced its backlog of unaddressed recommendations by one-third. Miller also questioned whether all of the potential $415 million in savings was actually recoverable. Typically, the amount that can be recouped is “a fraction” of the total, Miller said.
In its report, the committee also found that agencies without a permanent inspector general have some of the highest levels of outstanding recommendations. Leading that list was the State Department, which has lacked a permanent IG since 2008, and had a backlog of about 1,700 open and unimplemented recommendations as of last year.
Throughout government, inspectors general are now also wrestling with the same across-the-board spending reductions that affect the agencies they oversee. At Education’s Office of Inspector General, all of its approximately 240 permanent employees will be furloughed for about 10 days, said Tighe — including herself.
Transportation Department IG Calvin Scovel said his office will be able to avoid furloughs because it has cut costs aggressively and received additional funding stemming from the 2009 stimulus act and after Superstorm Sandy. But Scovel said that his office, which has almost 400 full-time equivalent employees, is now at its lowest level since the Inspector General Act of 1978 was enacted.