This year marks the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Inspector General Act of 1978 — the landmark legislation that created the audit and investigative agencies that serve as the “watchdogs” in the U.S. federal government. Under the Act, inspectors general (IGs) are responsible for:
Conducting and supervising audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations of the various federal agencies.
Providing leadership and coordinating and recommending policies (1) to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness, and (2) to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in their agencies.
Providing a means for keeping the head of their agencies and the U.S. Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies relating to programs and operations and the necessity for and progress of corrective action.
Federal IGs are empowered with extraordinary independence, and typically have both audit and investigative responsibilities. The thousands of men and women who comprise the Offices of Inspectors General typically go about their business in a quiet and unassuming manner. However, occasionally (and through no fault of their own) an IG and his or her team are cast into the public spotlight. Such has been the case recently with the publication of an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
The TIGTA audit report, Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review (PDF), has generated a firestorm of media coverage and political turmoil in Washington, D.C. Although the results of the audit have been sensationalized daily in the news and across social media, it has been reassuring to watch the IG calmly and professionally carry out his responsibilities. In the highly charged political environment that is Washington, it would be easy for an IG to avoid controversial audit results by not taking on controversial topics to begin with. Fortunately, that is not the legacy of federal IGs in the U.S. These outstanding men and women recognize the extraordinary responsibilities that rest on their shoulders. They recognize that as “guardians of public trust,” they must be watchdogs — not lapdogs.
Richard Chambers, CIA, CFE, QIAL, CRMA, CGAP, is the founder and Chief Executive of Richard F. Chambers and Associates, LLC. From 2009-2021 he served as the president and CEO of The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the global professional association and standard-setting body for internal auditors. Chambers has more than four decades of experience serving in and on behalf of the internal audit profession.