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Budget cuts hurting oversight, IGs say

Sep. 17, 2013 - 01:50PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

Agency inspectors general have frozen hiring, cut staff and narrowed the scope of audits in response to this year’s sequester-related budget cuts, according to survey findings released Tuesday by the Association of Government Accountants.

One IG’s office, for example, had shrunk its audit staff by 13 percent; another said that its full-time-equivalent head count was the lowest since 1978, when the current system was created, according to the report. Among the IGs surveyed, the consensus is that sequester “has had a significant impact on their ability to provide the level of oversight they believe is needed,” the report said.

The funding situation “limits what we can do,” Ed Slevin, director of computer assisted assessment techniques for the Education Department’s inspector general, said in an interview before the report’s release. While his agency has not been as hard-hit as others, Slevin said, his shop had to let one contractor go who provided programming services, slowing its ability to get work done.

The survey involved interviews with representatives from about 15 separate IG offices, said Steve Sossei, a consultant to AGA on the project, conducted in conjunction with Kearney and Co. The first-ever survey is similar to the one that the accountants association conducts every year of agency chief financial officers, Sossei added. Participants were not identified to encourage them to speak freely, according to the report.

For the watchdog community, the budget outlook is exacerbating other challenges. Nearly all of the respondents, for example, said their offices need to beef up skills in three areas: information technology security, data analytics and in-depth program knowledge.

But recruiting new hires with the needed talent faces two roadblocks.

On one front, the government’s “lengthy and cumbersome” hiring process prompts some applicants to take jobs elsewhere, according to officials cited in the report. At the same time, the economic downturn has led some experienced staff to delay retirement. Younger employees, unable to move up, “look elsewhere for advancement,” the report said, adding that the lack of turnover also limits the injection of new ideas and approaches.

While one IG was eager to hire staff adept in data analytics, the combination of hiring restrictions and the lack of open positions has gotten in the way, the survey found.

“Human capital issues have been and will continue to be among the greatest challenges facing IG offices,” the report said.

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