Two Extremes in Inspector General Hiring: Prolonged Vacancies and Rapid Turnover

Workforce gaps are not unique to the private sector. Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) are just like many offices across the U.S., facing the same major “hiring” issues non-government employers face: long vacancies and rapid turnovers. One key difference for OIGs, however, is that Congress has mandated federal IG hiring under the Inspector General Act of 1978 (IG Act). Unfortunately, OIGs at the federal level continue to endure the effects of these two hiring extremes despite the congressional mandate.

When there is a vacancy in any organization’s executive office or other management department, the organization often struggles to carry out its core mission. Similarly, the IGs’ abilities to effectively execute their core mission is affected when vacancies and rapid turnovers occur because either the position is not ever filled or the IG isn’t employed long enough to have any lasting impact on the department. Agencies often have difficulty aligning and implementing their goals when there is instability within their management.

The President and the Senate have consistently allowed IG vacancies to continue for long periods of time. GAO research showed that “vacancies from two weeks to six years occurred in 53 of 64 major IG offices from 2007 to 2016” with the longest vacancies in history occurring in the State Department and the Department of the Interior (DOI).  

Regarding turnover, one office that has seen its fair share of the problem is the Government Publishing Office (GPO). The GPO has had five inspector generals in the past year, which has led to distrust among GPO staff and the public, and has affected the general credibility of IGs. The successive turnovers have also perpetuated a culture of inconsistency and inefficiency.

The vetting process for nominating IGs can be lengthy and leaves no room for error. Making mistakes while vetting has its consequences — having to restart the process adds time and costs and perpetuates vacancies.

However, the President and the U.S. Senate are not wholly responsible for these problems. IG positions are often left vacant for longer periods because many federal agencies and departments fail to communicate internally and notify Congress when a change occurs in their OIG.

Possible Reform

H.R. 1847 (the Inspector General Protection Act) sponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), aims to fill IG vacancies by requiring communication between federal agencies and departments and Congress within 30 days of a change in the department’s OIG. Further, H.R. 1847 requires the president to notify Congress if a new IG has not been nominated to fill a vacancy after 210 days. In this notification, the president is required to provide an explanation as to why a nomination hasn’t been made and suggest a new nomination deadline.

2020 Presidential Election

Addressing vacancies and turnover in OIGs is crucial to the IGs’ mission. Additionally, each new administration makes changes. Depending on the party of our next president, agencies may increase in number and size, which makes the need for oversight and promoting accountability even more necessary and urgent.