Is being “Off-Mission” Fraud?

The Inspector General Act of 1978 (IG Act) purposefully gives inspectors general (IGs) significant discretion over their operations. The result is that no two IGs are the same, which makes sense because no two executive or independent agencies are the same. But a disparity arises between large and small agencies with respect to the priority and focus of audits. Even with the authority drawn from the IG Act and the commonality derived from the general auditing standards, there is considerable variety among the IGs’ audit work.

To illustrate these differences, we can look at the IG audit work of two labor agencies—the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). As a part of the description of its audit strategy, the EEOC IG’s ‘About Us’ webpage states, “the audit program provides assurance … that EEOC programs are working efficiently and effectively…these audits focus on management controls, administrative and program operations, transaction processing, and financial and other information systems.” Conversely, the DOL IG’s audit workplan for Fiscal Year 2019 states, “we decide which discretionary audits to conduct based on risk and potential impact on DOL’s mission and goals.” While the DOL OIG’s audit plan encompasses the mission of agency, the EEOC IG’s does not. These differing priorities are evident in recently concluded audits.

Each IG’s recent work illustrates two differing priorities. The DOL IG’s recently completed audits consist of reports that identify weaknesses in executing the statutory mission of DOL’s sub-agencies. This year, not only did the DOL IG complete statutorily required audits, it also conducted mission related audits for the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the enforcement of the Davis Bacon Act’s prevailing wages. On the other hand, the EEOC’s recently completed audit reports are almost exclusively the statutorily required audits required of all IGs, including Federal Information Security Modernization Act audits.

The dates on recent reports are also revealing. Similar to the audits conducted this year, a cursory review of the DOL’s IG work from the past several years reveals a pattern of both mission-focused and statutorily required audits. Conversely, the EEOC has issued only one statutorily required report this year. In fact, the most recent mission-focused audit from the EEOC’s IG was in 2014, and that work was contracted out to a third party.[1]

The differences between the DOL IG and the EEOC IG might simply be due to an obvious factor—each entity’s size. DOL is comprised of numerous sub agencies each with hundreds of varying programs and missions. Its IG must inevitably have, or at least strive to have, a proportional capacity. On the other hand, the EEOC is a five-member commission, with a general counsel office and a field operation. As such, the audit priority variance between these IGs might be considered a prioritization of resources; the IG of a large executive branch agency has more resources and ground to cover, while the IG of a smaller independent agency has less to cover and a presumably smaller budget.

Notwithstanding the budgetary and capacity differences, the differences in the type of audit work between the EEOC IG and the DOL IG raises an important question. Inspectors General are responsible for identifying and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in their agencies.[2] Is an agency’s failure to carry out its statutory mission relevant to waste, fraud, and abuse? Through its actions, DOL’s IG seems to answer “yes.” If that is the correct answer, then shouldn’t all IGs, regardless of agency size, include mission-focused audits as a part of their strategies?

[1] The DOL IG is mandated by some laws to conduct regular audits of the programs. Notwithstanding these additional requirements, DOL’s IG produces more mission-focused audit reports of its own volition.

[2] 5 U.S.C. Appendix (IG Act) §§3(a), 6(a), 6(e), and 7.