Acting Inspectors General Can Get More Done Than You Might Think

GAO survey finds a dozen vacancies, mixed picture on temporary leaders’ effectiveness.

Vacancies atop inspector general offices may not impede the watchdogs’ functions as much as previously thought, according to the Government Accountability Office.

new survey and results of interviews released on Friday posed the question of whether leadership by an acting IG negatively affected planning, work productivity, interaction with agency management or personnel decisions. The survey of nine acting inspectors general “and a stratified random sample of OIG employees who worked under an acting IG, found both groups indicated that having acting IGs generally did not impact the OIGs’ ability to carry out their duties and responsibilities,” GAO said.

Majorities as high as two-thirds responded that there is little impact from having an acting leader in such areas as ability to plan and conduct work—those responding “no impact” ranged from 49 percent to 69 percent. In the area of interaction with agency management, “no impact” was cited by respondents ranging from 63 percent to 65 percent.

The potential harm from long-term leadership vacancies, however, was more pronounced in the area of managing personnel. Four of the nine acting IGs surveyed and about 36 percent of OIG employees responded that an acting IG position had a negative impact, while 44 percent of employees believed that working under an acting IG had no impact—a lower percentage than the scores for the other areas evaluated. One of the nine acting IGs actually reported that the vacancy had a “positive impact on developing comprehensive work plans for audits, investigations, and other OIG work, as well as addressing high-risk and high-priority issues.”

Two acting IGs themselves indicated a reluctance to make changes that could not be easily reversed by an incoming appointed IG or to “shake up the organization,” which is the common rap against long-term vacancies.

A majority of respondents expressed concern that an acting IG gives the appearance (if not in fact) of being less independent than a permanent one—especially if the acting watchdog is applying for the permanent slot.

Of 12 current vacancies, 20 are in presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed jobs, and two are in agency-appointed jobs in designated federal entities. For the 10-year period covering fiscal years 2007 through 2016, GAO found, “53 of the 64 IG Act OIGs experienced one or more periods of IG vacancy with the cumulative durations ranging from about two weeks to six years.”

The longest period of continuous vacancies for presidentially appointed IGs was the State Department, which went without a permanent watchdog for five years and 258 days, beginning on Jan. 16, 2008, until confirmation of Steve Linick on Sept. 30, 2013.

The second-longest vacancy over the past decade studied was at the Interior Department’s IG office. It lasted four years and 273 days during the period GAO studied, but continues today.

Others with long IG vacancies during the decade ending Sept. 30, 2017, include the Export-Import Bank, the Energy Department, the Defense Department, the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Postal Service, the Social Security Administration, the National Security Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Federal Election Commission, the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Governmenwide there are 73 IGs, according to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, but 11 of them were authorized in statutes other than the 1978 Inspectors General Act.