Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is one of the lawmakers who released the report.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is one of the lawmakers who released the report. Susan Walsh/AP

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Agencies Found to Be Ignoring IGs to the Tune of $87 Billion

Some question Republicans' assertion that unimplemented recommendations are so costly.

Federal agencies are wasting $87 billion by failing to implement more than 15,000 inspector general recommendations, according to a new report released by Republican senators.

Many of the proposals have been floated for more than 10 years, wrote Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in their findings. The lawmakers and their staffs compiled the data over the last year from 72 different inspectors general at federal agencies governmentwide, and issued the final document without Democratic input.

Johnson and Grassley used the report to push not just the implementation of outstanding IG recommendations, but also their legislation -- The IG Empowerment Act -- to give more authority to agency auditors. The House passed a similar measure earlier this year to ensure IGs have access to all agency documentation, but the Senate bill has yet to receive a vote.

Eight of the IG offices, or about 11 percent, described “significant” hindrances from the agencies they audit, including through legal decisions allowing them to refuse to turn over certain documents. At times, the senators said, IGs had to resort to congressional assistance and the issuance or threat of subpoena to get the information they needed.  

“The use of compulsion to access documents, which the IGs are statutorily entitled to obtain, causes delays in reporting important information and decreases transparency for American taxpayers,” the lawmakers wrote.

Grassley called on congressional appropriators to withhold funding from non-compliant agencies by the amount of savings their IGs identified through unimplemented recommendations.

“There is no excuse for this kind of waste,” Grassley said. “At some point, agencies and the Obama administration need to be held accountable for refusing to take corrective action to reduce waste that has been identified by the independent inspectors general.”

The Housing and Urban Development Department has neglected to implement the most recommendations (2,100), totaling more than $5 billion in unrealized savings, according to the report. A dozen of those recommendations were issued prior to 2001. A HUD spokesman declined to comment.

The average agency has failed to address 231 IG suggestions, the report stated. HUD was followed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Veterans Affairs Department, State Department, and Health and Human Services Department. Defense’s $33 billion in unrealized savings was the highest total of any agency’s outstanding recommendations.

IGs across government successfully rooted out $46.5 billion in 2014, the senators noted, citing the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. In the categories of funds that could be “put to better use” and “questioned costs,” CIGIE in its most recent annual report identified $66 billion in potential savings. Just $14 billion in savings was implemented, the group said.

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department IG and the CIGIE chair, testified to Johnson's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last year on strategies auditors use to ensure recommendations are implemented. At Justice, that included biannual reports on outstanding recommendations, 90-day post-investigation status updates and regular re-investigations. Horowitz and CIGIE have also thrown their support behind the Johnson-Grassley IG Empowerment Act, praising it for enhancing IGs' access to information and empowering them to subpoena agency employees and contractors. 

While the bill has Democratic support and cleared the Senate government oversight committee unanimously, not everyone was pleased with the Republican report. Sources told Government Executive that Democrats widely criticized it.

One Senate aide questioned the math in the report.

“Unfortunately, the report doesn’t provide a complete methodology for how the $87 billion in potential cost savings was calculated,” the aide said. “It also doesn’t account for IG recommendations that agencies are currently in the process of implementing or those that have not yet been fully implemented.”

The report did provide an agency-by-agency breakdown of the savings.