Oversight Report: Agency Inspectors General Often Ignored

January 21, 2009

Inspectors general within federal agencies are supposed to be independent internal watchdogs that help keep their agency in line. Many of them work diligently to do just that, and conduct investigations and publish reports that publicize their findings on waste, fraud, abuse, and other problems.

However, as the US House Oversight Committee found in a report it released Jan. 6, 2009, the agencies frequently ignore the findings and recommendations of their inspectors general. During the Bush administration, from 2001-2008, the Committee found at least 13,847 recommendations that have yet to be implemented, out of more than 98,000 made during that time. The estimated cost to the American public is $25.9 billion. Federal law says that agencies are supposed to implement inspector general recommendations within a year, but 48% of the unimplemented recommendations are more than a year old, and 27% are more than two years old.

A substantial percentage of the 13,847 failures, which were identified through reports from 63 inspectors general, are related to issues tied to the environment. A few of the highlights include:

Number of Unimplemented Recommendations

  • Dept. of Agriculture: 747
  • Dept. of Defense: 1,047
  • Dept. of Energy: 180
  • Dept. of Interior: 592
  • Dept. of Transportation: 339
  • EPA: 107
  • Federal Maritime Commission: 31
  • NASA: 81
  • National Science Foundation: 61
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission: 126
  • Tennessee Valley Authority: 129

Cost of Unimplemented Recommendations, In Lost Savings or Forfeited Revenue

  • Dept. of Agriculture: $58,371,009
  • Dept. of Defense: $1,511,401,000
  • Dept. of Energy: $835,900,049
  • Dept. of Interior: $62,906,030
  • Dept. of Transportation: $1,467,845,280
  • EPA: $948,974,949
  • Federal Maritime Commission: $40,800
  • NASA: $7,240,000
  • National Science Foundation: $206,000
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission: $350,589
  • Tennessee Valley Authority: $4,347,879

Examples of Issues Covered by Unimplemented Recommendations

  • Protecting air and water quality
  • Strengthening management of the nation's forests, parks, and other public lands
  • Safe disposal of nuclear and other toxic waste
  • Exporting chemical and biological products
  • Protecting natural resources and human health on or near the nation's defense bases
  • Monitoring genetically engineered crops planted in open fields
  • Responding efficiently to natural disasters
  • Updating flood maps
  • Protecting the food supply from tampering
  • Maintaining the nation's infrastructure
  • Ensuring worker health and safety

Implementing these recommendations, or the failure to do so, could be one of the important stories to cover in the first year of the Obama administration.

  • US House Oversight Committee Majority Staff Report: "Inspectors General: Implementing Thousands of Open Recommendations Could Save Taxpayers Almost $26 Billion": Press release; Summary report; Media contact, Karen Lightfoot, 202-225-2927.

Some information about the status of EPA IG recommendations can be found here (valid as of October 2008). Other agencies may have similar documentation. If it's not obvious, ask the IG at each agency for what he or she gave the Oversight Committee, as well as updates.