“If this Congress is serious about eradicating waste and abuse; if it really wants to ensure effective oversight over funds; and if it genuinely wants to foster greater accountability over taxpayer dollars, we must ensure adequate resourcing of the IG’s office.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman
Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled ““Watching the Watchers: The Need for Systemic Reforms and Independence of the State Department Inspector General”:
The State Department’s Inspector General is the last line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse at the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Foreign Service Officers, civil service employees, and, of course, the US taxpayer should have absolute confidence that the IG’s office serves as an unassailable mechanism of accountability in the State Department.
And the office has often performed this function admirably.
Nonetheless, as described by the Chairman, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report flags a number of systemic concerns with the IG’s office.
First, the rotation of Foreign Service Officers in the IG’s office, a statutory legacy of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, raises questions regarding the independence of the organization.
One could argue that FSOs bring unique expertise to State Department oversight, including an intimate knowledge of the way our overseas missions work – or don’t work – as the case may be.
But this must be weighed against the concern that reliance on senior State Department personnel to conduct oversight creates both the image and possibility of a conflict of interest.
I would welcome the views of our witnesses on the role of FSOs in the IG’s Office.
Second, I am also interested in the views of our panelists regarding the balance between audits – the standard product of most IG offices -- and inspections, the traditional focus of the State IG, based on its historical mandate to inspect foreign posts.
The GAO report indicates that the State IG generally conducts about two inspections for every one audit. It also found that key management challenges, such as counterterrorism and information security, were overwhelmingly subject to inspections rather than audits.
I understand that the IG incorporates elements of an audit into many inspections, but in many ways they are distinct products with different methodologies.
Especially as the State Department assumes unprecedented roles and responsibilities in both Iraq and Afghanistan – including the management of massive contracts -- to what extent should the IG place a greater emphasis on audits?
Finally, the GAO report expresses concerns about inadequate resources for the IG – a concern that I share.
If this Congress is serious about eradicating waste and abuse; if it really wants to ensure effective oversight over funds; and if it genuinely wants to foster greater accountability over taxpayer dollars, we must ensure adequate resourcing of the IG’s office.
I’d note that the Continuing Resolution passed by my colleagues a few weeks ago would cut the State IG’s budget 17 percent below current operating levels, which would result in a hiring freeze and curtail oversight of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t understand why my colleagues would insist on cutting the budget of the very organization intended to ensure funds are well spent.
Incidentally and somewhat ironically, the CR also cut funds for the GAO, the organization that authored the report upon which this hearing is based.
I commend the chairman for holding this hearing, and look forward to the witnesses’ comments.