Meet The First Responders Against Washington Waste, Fraud and Abuse

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Which bureaucrats have the toughest job in the nation’s capital? The 6,604 civilian watchdogs responsible for tracking how the eight federal agencies with the biggest annual budgets spend more than $3 trillion deserve a prominent role in that conversation.

These watchdogs – full-time auditors, investigators and others with related skills – fight waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending and each one of them is responsible, on average, for $503 million, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis. And that’s just top eight; there are 64 other inspectors general in the federal government.

Call it a “target-rich environment” for all of them.

Full-timers on IG staffs routinely catch federal political appointees and career civil service workers spending tax dollars on everything from lavish employee conferences that just happen to be near popular vacation sites like Disney World, strip clubs, entertainment equipment that somehow ends up at home, expensive consultants who are buddies, high-end office furniture, corrupt contractors and suppliers, and hundreds of other devious means of cheating American taxpayers.

The Social Security Administration IG’s full-time employees are each responsible for monitoring the biggest chunks of federal spending, with 539 watchdogs eyeballing almost $906 billion, according to Office of Management and Budget data. That’s nearly $1.7 billion for each IG sleuth.

The Office of Personnel Management IG followed, with its 146 full-time employees – the smallest staff among the eight IGs – with each watching over $602 million.

Hackers stole personal information from more than 21 million current and former civil servants from OPM last summer after ignoring multiple IG reports warning about the problem, TheDCNF previously reported.

The IG for the Department of Health and Human Services – the agency that spent the most among the eight in 2014 with more than $936 billion – had the biggest staff, with each of the 1,574 watchdogs there reviewing $595 million.

The HHS IG is typically among the top watchdogs in terms of tax dollars returned to the Treasury and recovered $4.9 billion in 2014.

The only other IGs with 1,000 or more employees overseeing their agency’s expenditures were the Department of Defense and the Department of the Treasury, with, respectively, 1,542 and 1,242. The DOD IGers had to cover $375 million each.

The Treasury IG’s workers – including those with the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration – were each responsible for $360 million.

By comparison, the Department of Transportation IG’s 395 watchdogs each had to scrutinize $193 million – the least of the eight analyzed agencies.

IGs can’t stop all waste, fraud and abuse, even with staffs twice as big, but there are some puzzling gaps in their coverage. For example, as TheDCNF previously reported, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 4 program has never been audited by the HUD IG.

The remaining top spending agencies analyzed by TheDCNF were the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, whose employees are each responsible, respectively, for $233 million and $270 million.

Due to the complexity of the federal organization chart and budget, it’s important to remember that these figures are at best estimates. TheDCNF analysis only included what the civil service refers to as Full-Time-Equivalents.

Most FTEs represent one individual working 2,008 hours a year, but some FTEs represent two people, with each of them working half-time, for example. Together, they are one FTE.

Also, not all watchdogs are auditors. Many, for example, are exclusively investigators focused on catching fraudsters and criminals, rather than accounting for money.

Additionally, the IGs frequently must cover programs not included in the agency’s budget. The Defense Department’s budget, for example, excludes the Military Retirement Fund.

If all of that sounds complicated, it is and that’s something else that makes being a watchdog one of the toughest and busiest employment challenges in the federal government.

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