My Experience with the Insight and Guidance of Inspectors General

Nearly forty-one years ago, President Jimmy Carter signed the Inspector General Act of 1978 and ushered in a new era of government transparency. He told the assembled audience in the White House cabinet room that morning that they were all gathered to discuss “a matter of public trust.” For more than four decades, the federal government’s inspectors general have reinforced the bulwark of public trust.

The public servants in the IG offices across the federal government bring a commitment to independent, fact-based accountability. They help make our government more responsive and more prepared to meet the substance of the challenges our nation faces.

In my time in government, I was fortunate to work alongside many of these public servants and observe their contributions firsthand. In the Clinton Administration, that meant the IG and staff in the Treasury Department and at OMB working with all the IGs together. In the Obama Administration, at HHS.

At OMB, in particular, I was fascinated to watch them come together, sharing insights and best practices from across the federal government. No matter where I worked with Inspectors General, I saw people committed to both good government, and to the independence their unique role requires.

Independence, however, was never to be confused with isolation. My fellow political appointees and I saw our IGs in Treasury and HHS as assets to the Department. We often involved them in leadership meetings, and our goal was to ensure that they were informed ahead of time on agency processes and decisions. We wanted the expertise and insight of our inspector general as part of the deliberative process on the front end, so that we took advantage of their insights and experience as we were designing policies and programs. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to address some of our nation’s inspectors general on Capitol Hill, thanking them in person as we marked the 40th anniversary of the IG Act. I emphasized the value of collaboration and seeing the Inspector General as a source of insight and guidance, rather than a distant enforcer.

In practicality, though, that kind of relationship depends on a shared foundation – one that consists of a common agreement that good government is our ultimate goal, and a commitment to sharing time and access with one another. Without that shared goal or that open door, leaders in these agencies will miss out on the ideas and wisdom that could help them formulate better policy and implement programs well for the American people.

That’s not to say the relationship will always be easy, either. It is, by design, a relationship designed to be challenging. It’s not adversarial, but it is always one of staunch independence and strict scrutiny. A healthy respect of the challenges inherent in the role of the IG and the role of appointees is vital.

Build a relationship. Communicate. That’s the advice I would give to political appointees coming to agencies. And to share that advice and best practices widely, tools like this blog are essential.

Higher education is well-known as a place of teaching and research. It’s also a place to convene, bringing together scholars pursuing cutting-edge research, students exploring the career path that has captured their interest, and practitioners on the front lines.

At American University, we’re built for scholarship, learning, and convening. We host a number of conferences on our campus throughout the year, bringing in organizations from across sectors and around the country. We provide educational and degree opportunities for a wide variety of people in the middle of their careers. And with programs like the Key Executive Leadership program, we offer a place where leaders in our federal agencies can come to build out their individual skillset, share lessons from across the federal government, and meet some of their colleagues.

In my years in public service, I was fortunate to work with Inspectors General and their staff who were committed to delivering an impact for the taxpayer. I’m thankful that here, at American University, we can give back in a small way by giving them a place to share ideas and knowledge as they continue serving the American people efficiently and effectively, as they make the most of their opportunity to protect and preserve the public trust.