Inspectors General Feel Crimped by Hiring Freeze, Budget Cuts

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., says Trump administration cuts are opening the door to more waste, fraud and abuse. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., says Trump administration cuts are opening the door to more waste, fraud and abuse. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In a survey by Democratic staff on the House oversight panel, inspectors general at two dozen agencies expressed worry over harm to their mission productivity from President Trump’s earlier hiring freeze and plans for budget cuts.

In a May 3 memo to Democrats on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the staffers said “nearly every” IG is concerned about a potential drop in exposures of waste, fraud and abuse as well as heightened risk of missing statutory deadlines.

“With Republicans now in control of the White House, Senate, and House, inspectors general are one of the last backstops the American people have to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse at federal agencies,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the panel’s ranking member, in a statement. “This new evidence demonstrates that the president’s restrictions on hiring will harm the American people by preventing IGs from carrying out their vital mission.”

The memo cites several White House directives calling for budget cuts at nearly all agencies, and quotes a Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency estimate that the watchdogs in fiscal 2015 saved the government $36.6 billion and successfully prosecuted 5,000 wrongdoers. During the 2002 hiring freeze imposed by the Reagan administration, the memo added, the Government Accountability Office found that one result was “decreased oversight of federal programs.”

The Democrats quoted major department IG’s warning that staff freezes and cuts will:

  • Put Treasury at risk of increased fraud and other criminal activity;
  • Hinder the State Department IG’s oversight of efforts to defeat ISIL and the Taliban;
  • Limit the number of investigations the Education Department IG pursues, resulting in fewer prosecutions and recovered funds;
  • Squeeze the Interior Department IG’s ability to oversee operations in Indian Country and investigate fraud associated with oil and gas royalties;
  • Threaten the Transportation Department IG’s plans for monitoring expected infrastructure investments;
  • Compromise the Environmental Protection Agency IG’s ongoing work with the FBI, Secret Service and Marshals Service, as well it’s ability to respond to requests from Congress and the public.
  • Potentially compromise the Defense Department’s investigations of sexual assaults and the IG’s capacity to audit the department’s $300 billion in acquisition contracts.

Neither the Democrats nor Republicans on the oversight panel responded to Government Executive queries about why the survey was not bipartisan.

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