Report: IG's Disregard for Whistleblowers 'Shameless'
Despite being "one of the most important stakeholders" of the federal government's 64 offices of inspector general, whistleblowers are often considered "afterthoughts" by the federal government's watchdogs responsible for compiling and investigating their concerns, according to a new report by the Project on Government Oversight. As federal IGs are reaping the benefits of more funding and public attention, the report suggests they need to do more to spread the word about their work.
Whistleblowers' complaints are often ignored or "receive short shrift" from OIG employees, according to the report.
"It has long been POGO's experience, as well as that of many whistleblower attorneys contacted by POGO, that generally IGs are at best irrelevant to whistleblowers and at worst are part of the problem." One reason may be because IGs do not have the legal authority to force agencies to take corrective actions, the report suggests.
If citizens attempt contact with an inspector general, the report suggests they likely face difficulties making basic contact via telephone or the Internet.
"It is surprising and rather disappointing that some of the largest departments have only the tiniest, faintest link to their IG's home page, while several very small and frankly obscure agencies have easily found links that jump off the agency home page," according to the report. The Eye's recent independent review of IG Web sites supports these claims, revealing vast inconsistencies in accessibility, design and ease of use.
Many IGs outsource their call centers, forfeiting total control of telephone operators. When POGO staffers called the IG hotlines for the Defense and Transportation departments, the same operator at a third-party call center answered the phone. "The hotline operators -- local college students, according to one IG who uses the service -- also simultaneously handle the hotlines for several private companies."
Read more about this report and see what the IG community has to say about it in Monday's Washington Post.
POGO's report also urges IGs to embrace a more public, press-friendly attitude when performing investigations.
"If an IG is doing his or her job exposing or even preventing waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct, then we want to hear about it. An IG report falling silently in the forest is just a waste of trees."
This is POGO's second annual report on the mission and effectiveness of inspectors general and it includes feedback from most of the federal government's 64 OIGs. Last year's report raised concerns about their political independence. Despite its criticisms, this year POGO gives generally favorable reviews to the overall mission and culture of IGs.
"This is not a broken system, but we do think there are new ways of thinking about IGs," said POGO executive director Danielle Brian.
"IGs are on the ascendancy, with the stimulus and stimulus board and SIGTARP, everyone recognizes the importance of the job," Brian said, adding later that IGs should "Focus on having an impact. Make sure that your IG office doesn’t focus on output but outcome."
And Brian suggests IGs should regularly answer the question: "Am I really looking at the big picture?”
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