Government Operations:

Integrity Committee's Process to Address Allegations of Wrongdoing by Inspectors General

GAO-10-63R: Published: Oct 15, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2009.

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The inspectors general (IGs) have a unique role within their agencies to identify areas for improved economy, efficiency, and effectiveness through independent and objective oversight; prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement; and recommend corrective actions. This role requires that IGs and their staff maintain the highest level of integrity and accountability within their own offices. Over the years, concerns have been raised about the transparency of the process for handling allegations of wrongdoing against IGs and their staff. As agreed with Congressional offices, this report describes (1) the Committee's process for addressing allegations of wrongdoing against IGs, (2) whether the Committee adhered to its process as described in Executive Order No. 12993 and implementing policy and procedures, and (3) the effect of the Reform Act on the Committee's process.

The Integrity Committee is responsible for receiving, reviewing, and referring for investigation, allegations of wrongdoing by IGs and certain staff. The Committee receives allegations from government contractors, private citizens, IG employees, and those who remain anonymous through phone calls, e-mails, and letters. The Integrity Committee may refer the allegations it receives to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine whether, if substantiated they would constitute a violation of federal criminal law. If a criminal investigation is warranted the Public Integrity Section refers the matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The Integrity Committee reviews all allegations of administrative misconduct that are not criminal in nature to determine if they fall within its jurisdiction, and if so the Committee may perform an administrative investigation or take steps to close the matters. We reviewed case files for 165 allegations that the Integrity Committee opened and closed during calendar years 2005 through 2007 and found that the Committee's activities were consistent with the requirements of Executive Order No. 12993 and the Committee's implementing policy and procedures. The Integrity Committee received allegations about IGs and their staff in 35 separate federal agencies and entities. The nature of the wrongdoing reported in the allegations involved seven areas of alleged misconduct that included the failure to investigate certain matters, and the mismanagement, waste, and abuse of government resources. DOJ determined that none of these allegations warranted a criminal investigation. The Integrity Committee reviewed the allegations for administrative misconduct and determined that 93 of the 165 allegations were within its jurisdiction because they alleged wrongdoing by an IG or an IG staff member acting with the knowledge of the IG. For those allegations within its jurisdiction, the Integrity Committee conducted 2 separate investigations that addressed 41 allegations. The Integrity Committee closed the remaining 52 allegations within its jurisdiction (1) because the matters were within the IG's discretion to decide where to apply audit and investigative resources, (2) after additional information was obtained indicating a lack of evidence of wrongdoing, (3) after referral of allegations to the responsible IG for action when no indication of wrongdoing is determined, or (4) after referral of the allegations to an agency with jurisdiction. In addition, the Integrity Committee determined that 72 allegations were outside its jurisdiction because they involved lower level IG staff or agency officials, and failed to demonstrate administrative misconduct against an IG or IG staff member acting with the knowledge of the IG. The Reform Act continues the functions carried out by the Integrity Committee under Executive Order No. 12993 but with the permanence of statute. In addition, the Reform Act provides new guidance and greater transparency over the Committee's activities. Specifically, the Reform Act requires (1) IGs to annually designate the positions of staff subject to Integrity Committee review; (2) the Integrity Committee to establish policies and procedures necessary to ensure fairness and consistency in its investigations, such as providing the person under investigation the opportunity to respond, which may help to facilitate the Committee's investigations; and (3) the Integrity Committee to provide the results of its investigations to congressional committees, agency heads, and the President shortly after completion, and to annually report by December 31 to Congress and the President on certain activities during the preceding fiscal year as specified by the act, which significantly enhances transparency of the Committee's process.

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