A year after the launch of Oversight.gov, officials already are evaluating expansion of the site that compiles governmentwide inspector general reports.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency launched Oversight.gov Oct. 1, 2017, as a central clearinghouse for all agency inspector general reports and investigations.
“We were trying to put together a site where members of the public, the press, various stakeholder groups, people that were interested in government oversight, would have an easy way to access the work of IGs across government,” Tammy Whitcomb, the acting inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service, told Federal Times.
“We thought it would be a really good thing to have a centralized clearinghouse.”
CIGIE operates and maintains Oversight.gov, but the site has gone without dedicated funding for its first year of existence — meaning that much of the content management falls to individual agency IGs.
“It’s been crafted and developed in a way that, because CIGIE doesn’t have a direct appropriation, it’s essentially being managed through the work of the 73 IGs in posting the reports,” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in an interview with Federal Times.
“What we’re doing with CIGIE is that we’re monitoring it through our regular contract with our IT support that we have there. And it’s essentially making sure that the website doesn’t crash and that updates are run as needed. From a content standpoint, it’s not being run at CIGIE.”
The design of Oversight.gov is based on some of the work that had already been done by the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General but is still compatible with the variety of IG sites across the federal government.
“Each IG does things just a little bit differently, but I think the site is general enough that we were able to accommodate most of that,” said Whitcomb.
And while, according to Horowitz, it generally takes less than two minutes to get a report posted on Oversight.gov, potential improvements and expansions would require a greater investment of time and funds.
“Depending upon what we build and how we build it, it would require some maintenance year to year. And it would require us to either directly hire staff at CIGIE as IT support for the new pages — because we would be undertaking a far greater responsibility at CIGIE if we were to move forward with those webpages — or alternatively, obviously, to hire contractors to do that work,” said Horowitz.
Those changes could hopefully improve site search functionality, incorporate user-community enhancement suggestions, create an open recommendations database and maintain a whistleblower hotline page.
According to Horowitz, a whistleblower page would give federal employees a better idea of the protections that exist for them and directions for the right place to report waste, fraud and abuse.
“I think it would be great to be able to have a webpage dedicated to providing information to employees throughout the government, whether they call themselves whistleblowers or not,” said Horowitz.
“What we were considering building out was a webpage that had a more-developed form that had some more content to explain to individuals that wanted to come forward and report to IGs. A place where they could go to get that kind of information.”
CIGIE might also be able to expand the “Disaster Oversight” section of the site, which tracks the work of CIGIE’s Disaster Assistance Working Group that coordinates inspector general efforts to oversee disaster-related funds.
Another potential page would help the public and Congress get insight into the IG nomination process.
“We’ve talked about creating an IG vacancies dashboard page, so the public can see what IG offices are currently vacant, where there have been nominations [and also which] nominations are pending — again to support the idea of the importance of filling IG positions,” said Horowitz.
The Senate’s general government appropriations bill includes $2 million for Oversight.gov, which Whitcomb said would make inroads for some of the desired improvements to the site. Whether those appropriations make it into law will be determined by conference agreement between the House and the Senate. Since the appropriations committees have yet to submit a conference report, it is likely that the question of funding for Oversight.gov will be pushed to December 2018 through a continuing resolution.
“They need some additional help. But their work needs to be highlighted, and we need to actually implement the recommendations,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in a July speech in support of the appropriations bill.
“IGs are on the front lines of the efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government, and their recommendations produce billions of dollars in cost savings. And we need to be able to actually see those and to be able to implement it.”
“Oversight.gov has improved the accessibility and prominence of their work. I am confident that this effort will produce even greater savings in the future by maintaining the database of open IG recommendations at Oversight.gov,” he added.
The funding has bipartisan support and, should it be included in the final appropriations bill, would be transferred to CIGIE for them to apply toward improvements to the site.
“I think it could definitely get us to some sort of centralized database of open recommendations,” said Whitcomb.
“Members of Congress have been very interested in having a more centralized source for open recommendations.”
Legislators are pushing for the open recommendation database through a bill introduced by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and passed through the Senate in May 2018.
The bill, titled the Inspector General Recommendation Transparency Act of 2018, would give the federal government 18 months to create a searchable database of open IG recommendations on any given topic.
“The Senate passed my bipartisan bill to require unimplemented recommendations to be posted to a searchable, one-stop-shop website. And the bipartisan spending package the Senate passed [in August] would strengthen federal support for Oversight.gov — including the funding to establish a centralized database of unimplemented recommendations that I have been advocating for in my bill,” said Heitkamp in a statement to Federal Times.
“Good government requires being both open and transparent with the public, and this is an important development as Congress pushes federal agencies to address longstanding challenges related to fraud, waste [and] abuse.”
According to Whitcomb, though users can now search Oversight.gov for reports on a particular topic, they have to click into each individual report to see the recommendations.
“I think it would be really valuable if our sites talked to each other,” said Whitcomb, explaining that Oversight.gov already offers IGs the benefit of seeing what each other are doing in certain topic areas, which could prove equally useful when comparing against GAO reports.
A more-developed site may also be able to host webpages for smaller IG shops to alleviate the burden of maintaining their own website.
“[I’d] love to be able to host IG webpages to help the community and support their efforts to be more transparent than we already are,” said Horowitz.
Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.