In a wry anecdote illustrating the power of inspectors general, acting Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine on Thursday recalled a revealing conversation he had with current special counsel Robert Mueller, back in the day when Mueller was FBI director and Fine was the Justice Department’s IG.
Speaking this week to attorneys at the Federal Bar Association’s conference on qui tam procedures under the False Claims Act, Fine was making the point that IGs, though independent “dual-reports” to both Congress and agency heads, do consult with agency chiefs on what issues the IG should investigate. But the agencies don’t always respond helpfully, he said.
When Fine was at Justice (2000-2011), he recalled, he once tapped Mueller, whom he considers an exceptional leader, for good ideas, to which the FBI chief replied, “Do more work on the Drug Enforcement Administration.” The IG was “doing enough work on the FBI,” Mueller said.
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But Fine retrieved the numbers and showed Mueller that only about 30 percent of his work was on the FBI—about equivalent to the bureau’s share of Justice Department employees. The laconic Mueller’s reply: “It just doesn’t feel that way.”
The bulk of Fine’s talk was a serious run-down of how the Pentagon IG’s 1,600 employees perform audits and evaluations to root out waste, fraud and abuse, often using hotline tips from whistleblowers. Qui tam cases—in which the informant, or “relator” receives a percentage of the recovered funds and penalties as a reward—are a “significant portion” of the cases taken on by his staff in their 50 offices worldwide.
From 2014 to 2018, the Defense IG staff received 1,600 qui tam referrals, and as a result its criminal investigators opened 600 probes that already have recovered some $6.5 billion from fraudsters, Fine said. Some 299 of the fraud probes continue, most in the area of health care.
The best way for attorneys representing tipsters to get a case opened, he said, is to deliver “specificity in the allegation,” which means supporting documents, a timeline and a continuous pattern of illegal activity. The Defense IG is more apt to prioritize cases, Fine added, that present a “harm to public safety” or an “impact on readiness.” Qui tam complaints, he said, “are powerful instruments.”