The United States Needs a New Special Inspector General

In the last several years, inspectors general (IGs) have become a household topic of discussion across the United States. From the Inspector General for the Intelligence community to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General Office’s reports from the 2016 presidential election, the role of inspectors general and their reports have been the subject of public debate. The Inspector General Act of 1978 charges IGs with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. Since this legislation’s inception, the role of the IG has expanded and grown. One of the expansions includes the creation of special inspectors general offices, which Congress designed to address a specific area of concern.[1] These Special IGs not only have the ability to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, but also have the ability to explore larger themes related to their topics. For example, the Special Inspectors General for Afghanistan and Iraq Reconstruction both have programs called “Lessons Learned Reports.” These reports look at larger themes and issues at play in those military engagements. These special IGs have proven extremely effective in their time, saving the government hundreds of thousands of dollars and enforcing oversight of government funded activities.[2] Congress should consider implementing a special inspector general over one of the areas it has historically struggled to conduct oversight on: military engagements.

Military engagements are complex and intricate endeavors, which the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) attempts to address through conducting oversight over all actions by the United States government in the country. However, the current military engagement in Afghanistan is the only engagement that the federal government conducts adequate oversight over. As of January 2019, the United States military engaged in combat in 14 different countries, conducted air and drone strikes in 7 countries, and assisted in counterterrorism training in 65 countries. While individual agency inspectors general may oversee their own agency’s actions, a more coordinate and centralized review of the United States’s military actions is needed.

In order to ensure effective oversight of military engagements, Congress should create a Special Inspector General for Military Engagement (SIGME). This IG should have the authority to not only to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, but also to issue Lessons Learned reports to examine overarching themes and issues in military engagements around the world. Military engagements are complex, and often involve more federal agencies than just the Department of Defense, as evidence by SIGAR’s mandate. Creating SIGME would allow for more holistic oversight of these agencies and the United States’ military involvement around the world.

[1] The three current special inspectors general include the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction submitted its final report, in compliance with statutory requirements on September 9, 2013.

[2] In its final report, SIGIR estimated $1.61 billion in potential financial benefits ($640.68 million in questioned costs), with an actual government savings of $645 million. Its 170 inspection reports covered projects that valued $2.1 billion. The investigations conducted during SIGIR’s time resulted in “104 indictments, 82 convictions, and over $191 million in court ordered fines, forfeitures, restitution payments, and other monetary penalties.” As of July 30, 2020, SIGAR “has identified approximately $3.3 billion in savings,” and has completed 166 audit investigations. As of June 30, 2020, SIGTARP had “a 31 times return on investment of $11 billion recovered.”