Investigators general make sleeping easier

Editorial

The average American taxpayer doesn’t have a lot of friends “inside the Beltway.” Rather, most of the interest groups and individuals that make up the Washington establishment look at the people like tiny ATM machines, from which they want to maximize withdrawals.

So today we pay tribute to the largely unsung heroes who are doing their best to ensure our tax dollars are wisely spent — the inspectors general who serve as the internal auditors, investigators and watchdogs at federal agencies.

A few private groups also keep a close eye on the fiscal follies in Washington, including Citizens Against Government Waste. But IGs work on the inside, trying to keep their parent agencies honest and the policymakers informed about what’s going on (if they care to tune in). In fact, most of what we know about the government’s wasteful ways is the result of their efforts, or the work of the Government Accountability Office (probably a much more familiar name to most Americans). And from time to time, they should be recognized for their work.

What reminded us of this was a story appearing on Thursday’s GovExec.com Web site, a good source of information for government watchers, about a welcome increase in the number of government contractors being blackballed for defrauding the taxpayers, as well as an increase in the number of government employees disciplined or charged with crimes as a result of IG investigations.

Contractor suspensions and debarments resulting from inspector general actions nearly doubled in 2005, to 9,918 from 5,045 the previous year, according to the story, and reprimands, suspensions and firings rose more than 40 percent, to 2,819 in 2005, from 1,989 in 2004.

These data come from a report by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency. IGs also racked up 7,703 successful prosecutions in 2005, a nearly 20 percent increase over the previous year.
Marilyn Richardson, the PCIE’s vice chairman, credited the increase with IGs being more aggressive. That approach is paying off in other ways, as well. The 57 federal IGs also take credit for an estimated $20 billion “in potential savings from audit recommendations and investigative recoveries,” according to the story — which “amounted to $15.7 billion in funds that agency managers agreed could be put to better use.”

We know that obscene amounts of money are still going to be wasted by the federal government, despite the best efforts of these largely unsung taxpayers’ heroes. But just knowing they’re out there, and on the job, makes us a little less nauseated thinking about it.