Government Watchdogs Struggle To Do Their Job Under Sequestration

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

Two-thirds of the country’s inspectors general, watchdogs who oversee federal programs to root out fraud, waste, and abuse, say that budget constraints are the top challenge they face, according to a new survey from the Association of Government Accountants and Kearney and Co. They also say that sequestration is hampering their operations. Their budgets were cut by $100 million this year thanks to the automatic cuts.

“Many of the offices we interviewed indicated that they are at stagnant or reduced resource levels at a time when requirements and program complexity are increasing,” the survey notes. Salaries are the biggest part of inspectors general’s budgets, so sequestration has taken its biggest toll by forcing hiring freezes, which most respondents were coping with, and staff reductions. One office has reduced staff by 13 percent, while another said that its full-time staff is at the lowest level since 1978. At the same time, many watchdogs have seen responsibilities significantly increase, particularly those monitoring IT and data security, healthcare, and financial services.

Some offices have also turned to furloughs, which are estimated to range from three to four days on the low end to as much as 10 to 11 days. One office said that while it undergoes furloughs and staff reductions, the number of complaints through its hotline has increased, leaving it with the possibility that legitimate complaints won’t be investigated.

Budget cuts have also meant pay freezes and training reductions. Some have been able to avoid a significant impact by consolidating travel, using web-based training, and reducing the scope of their audits.

Other important government functions have been hampered by the budget cuts. The Internal Revenue Service has had to furlough more than 89,000 employees, which has helped to reduce tax revenues by $5 billion thanks to fewer audits of delinquent taxpayers. The country’s 14 economic statistics agencies have been forced to eliminate or delay reports on income, energy use, and global labor costs. The Central Intelligence Agency had to shutter the Historical Collections Division, the office responsible for declassifying historical documents, and turn the task over to someone else.

Meanwhile, the country’s financial outlook would actually improve if sequestration were eliminated. Projections of the deficit would look better, while it would add as much as 1.2 percent to GDP and 1.6 million jobs. Yet Republicans continue to demand even further spending cuts.