US senator warns of government watchdog cuts

By on 20/08/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Senator Claire McCaskill's report says "Cutting the budgets of independent watchdogs is deeply troubling and hinders the effort to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately," (Image courtesy: United States Senate).

Proposed funding cuts to the budgets of US watchdogs overseeing federal agencies could harm efforts to tackle waste, fraud and abuse, according to a report produced by a senator.

Claire McCaskill, the most senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has produced a report analysing proposed budget allocations for inspectors general (IGs) included in US president Donald Trump’s 2019 budget.

It shows substantial cuts to IG budgets at five agencies, including three which are to receive an overall increase in their total departmental budget. “Cutting the budgets of independent watchdogs is deeply troubling and hinders the effort to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately,” said McCaskill.

“Inspectors general contribute to the important job of curbing waste, fraud, and abuse at federal agencies, so it’s unconscionable that we would cut their budgets and decrease accountability, especially as we’re potentially increasing the budgets of some of the very same agencies they’re supposed to oversee.”

Bigger jobs, smaller budgets

Seven IGs at five major agencies – the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), State Department, and Treasury Department – are facing budget reductions totalling US$63.4 million, the report finds.

IGs at DHS, USDA, and the Treasury Department face cuts even whilst, under the president’s budget proposals, the departments would be receiving increased budgets. On this point, the report cites the formal response to the president’s budget proposals by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the DHS, who said: “Substantially reducing the budget of DHS OIG while increasing the budget and activities of DHS critically impairs the DHS OIG’s ability to carry out its statutory oversight responsibilities.”

McCaskill’s report goes on to say that a further six other IGs are slated to receive budget increases that fail to keep pace with increases to their agency’s overall budgets – resulting in a relative reduction in resources for oversight. Of the 27 IGs examined for the report, at least nine had their initial funding request reduced during the 2019 budget process, the report says.

Invest in efficiency

Furthermore, it finds, the president’s budget did not include an initial funding request for an additional 16 IGs, “despite requirements in the IG Reform Act that the budget submission for each agency include the IG’s initial budget estimate”.

In 2016, IGs across the federal government collectively identified $17 in savings for every $1 spent on IG operations, according to the report.

McCaskill’s report concludes: “If enacted, the funding levels proposed in the president’s FY19 budget would inhibit ability of Inspectors General throughout the federal government to continue robust oversight of federal spending and jeopardize taxpayer dollars.”

In July, a report by the Project on Government Oversight, marking 40 years since the creation of the IG role, found “resource constraints can hamper IGs’ ability to conduct effective and consistent oversight”.

In 2017, non-partisan monitoring organization GovTrack ranked McCaskill as the top senator on issues relating to government transparency.

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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