Government Audit Shows Agencies Waste Billions
Policy + Politics

Government Audit Shows Agencies Waste Billions

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Federal government agencies rife with waste, fraud and abuse have missed billions of dollars of savings by ignoring recommendations for improvement from their respective inspectors general, according to a new congressional report. 

Last year alone, federal agencies failed to respond to nearly 17,000 IG audit recommendations, which could have saved an estimated $67 billion, according to a report released Tuesday by the House Committee on Government Oversight. There has been a steady rise in the number of unimplemented IG proposals dating back to 2009, when committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., began surveying IG reports --from 10,894 then to 16,906 in 2012.

The most common recommendations that went unheeded involved security weaknesses within  agencies’ information technology systems, as well as lack of contractor oversight.

During an oversight committee hearing yesterday, Department of Education inspector general Kathleen Tighe said the department had “longstanding challenges” responding to audits, including failure to implement recommendations to improve the IT system and combat an estimated $187 million worth of federal student aid fraud between 2009 and 2012.

According to Tighe’s testimony, the education department failed to implement 90 percent of the recommendations her office made between January 2007 and December 2010. Because of the statute of limitations, the department lost the chance to recover $415 million in questionable costs.

The five worst departments for responding to IG recommendations include the State Department, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and the  International Development Agency. Three of those agencies – State, HHS and IDA—note that they have not had permanent IG’s to work with since 2009. 

“Long-term IG vacancies weaken the Office of the Inspector General,” the congressional report said, adding, “A permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities.”

Three other departments with IG vacancies, including Defense, Labor and Interior, are “especially problematic” because of their massive size, the report says. Since the survey began in 2010, the acting IG for the Department of Defense has reported more than $1 billion uncollected payments from contractors.

Inspectors general vacancies at the DOD, Labor and Interior can only be filled by the president.

“If evidence continues to mount that the administration is dismissive of the work of the IG community, Congress should aggressively incorporate unimplemented recommendations into legislative actions,” the committee’s report says. “More legislative activity based on IG recommendations will result in better use of substantial funds and improvements in program integrity and information.”