IG finds scattered workforce issues at Defense audit agency

Defense Contract Audit Agency employees often felt pressured to meet unreasonable performance standards and occasionally witnessed unprofessional behavior, according to a watchdog report scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

The report by the Defense Department inspector general, which Government Executive obtained in advance, focuses on 13 audit cases at two California field offices that were the subjects of a 2008 investigation by the Government Accountability Office. The small sample size for the latest report makes it impossible to determine the breadth of the issues uncovered, the IG noted.

The IG's findings will be unveiled Wednesday during a DCAA oversight hearing by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Also expected to be released is a new GAO report on audit deficiencies at DCAA. Government Executive reported last month that in a draft assessment, GAO cited widespread problems with 37 audit reports issued between 2004 and 2006.

In its report, the IG interviewed 68 employees, including auditors, supervisors and managers, to determine if allegations of abusive work conditions could be substantiated, and if so, how those conditions were contributing to audits that failed to follow governmentwide standards.

The IG discovered some scattered workforce problems, such as managers raising their voices and failure to compensate employees for overtime, but the findings paled in comparison to those previously documented by GAO. The watchdog reported in July 2008 that DCAA supervisors took inappropriate personnel actions against an employee who reported possible mismanagement and intimidated auditors in an attempt to keep them from speaking with investigators.

The IG's report indicates that workforce problems might have been isolated to a handful of recalcitrant managers. Only one employee described a situation where she was instructed to withhold information from an investigative agency. While the employee is not named, the circumstances the IG described were identical to those of Diem Thi Le, an auditor who was told, in a controversial nondisclosure memorandum, that she could not provide documents to federal investigators under the threat of disciplinary action. That memo has since been rescinded.

For the most part, however, auditors told the IG more mundane stories. Thirty-two employees said DCAA job performance metrics -- many of which have since been changed -- created undue pressure to complete audits in an unreasonable time frame. The pressure appears to have been accelerated in late September, as the agency attempted to meet its fiscal year-end performance goals, according to the report.

About one-third of the staffers interviewed by the IG said they had worked uncompensated overtime, while about one in four stated that they had witnessed unprofessional conduct in their office. The report generally cited "rude" behavior, screaming and occasional swearing. One supervisor who spent time in both regional offices was accused of "intimidating employees."

"These instances could have negatively impacted the work environment enough to affect the quality of some audits," the report said.

Meanwhile, 12 of 68 employees recalled having their audit findings changed by supervisors. But all the examples appear to have been included in GAO's 2008 report. Many of the supervisors and managers interviewed by the IG said reports generally were changed because auditors provided insufficient support for their findings, or there was a material disagreement on the significance of the issues.

"Changing the opinions and findings based on these reasons may be the appropriate action for the supervisor to take," the report stated. "However, the supervisor is also responsible to ensure that any changes are adequately supported and properly documented."

In her response, Stephenson said she takes the IG's conclusions "very seriously" and the agency is undergoing a "cultural transformation." She noted DCAA already has taken a number of corrective actions to address concerns that GAO has outlined.

One supervisor, whose work was associated with the majority of the noncompliant audits reviewed by the IG, will retake several courses at the Defense Contract Audit Institute. In addition, employees will attend training encouraging more professional workplace behavior.

Such measures do not go far enough, according to some auditors. "The supervisory training class taught these lockstep audits to be so abusive and metric-sensitive," said one California auditor. "In the final analysis, the IG report is a cover for existing negligent DCAA management."

The auditor said the IG's office should have expanded the scope of its review to determine if the behavior cited on the West Coast was occurring nationwide. Sections of the report indicate ongoing investigations by the IG, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Office of Special Counsel. The inspector general is also conducting a yearlong peer review for the period ending on Sept. 30 of DCAA's response to the allegations outlined in the 2008 GAO report and of noncompliance issues raised in past IG opinion reports on the agency's quality control systems.

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