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Watching the watcher: GAO looks at the DHS IG

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GAO has released a new report examining the DHS Office of Inspector General, a study requested by Congress during the period of tumult at the DHS OIG in 2012-2013 under the previous acting Inspector General. The report reviews this history but does not find serious ongoing weaknesses in the organization and management of the DHS OIG. But the report did include one chart that is worth examining closely: the breakdown of DHS OIG audits and inspections by DHS component:

gaoigchart

Of note in this chart, a total of 200 out of 361 audit and inspection reports – 55% – conducted by the DHS OIG in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 pertained solely to FEMA. The report attributes this high percentage of activity in part to the IG’s statutory mandate to “annually conduct audits of a sample of states and high-risk urban areas that receive grants administered by DHS to prevent, prepare for, protect against, or respond to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other disasters.”

It’s worthwhile to consider the extent to which this statutory mandate – and others imposed by the Congress – are crowding out other audit and inspection activities that would be more useful in terms of both fulfilling the IG’s core mission and providing Congress with valuable information for its own oversight.

Current DHS IG John Roth responded to the GAO’s report in this release, noting that “we are a far different organization than we were last year” and highlighting the progress that has been made since his confirmation in March 2014. Such progress is critically important for the Department, which needs a strong and independent IG that is focused on the full breadth of the Department’s activities.