Monday, June 08, 2009

Testifying Before Congress

I'm not reassured....

If you're an inspector general, called before Congress to testify, you might do well to understand the scope of your job and responsibilities.


  1. To be fair to Ms. Coleman, she does understand the scope of her job and responsibilities. A large part of the problem is that IG responsibilities historically have involved reviewing actions "after" they have occurred. (Have you ever heard of an IRS auditor showing up to look over your shoulder "while" you were doing your taxes?)

    I know it made good Internet fodder, but I think a few points are getting missed:

    1) This is kind of like yelling at the accident investigator when the driver who caused the accident is still on the scene . . . why isn't he asking the agency head these questions? He could have put the agency head under oath, questioned him, and then contacted the IG and requested an investigation of what he alleges are the agency head's false statements, violations of law, etc.

    2) If you want somebody to say, "We haven't had time to thoroughly analyze what happened, but just to make you happy, "bad, bad, agency," you should go to the editorial page. If you want a thorough review or audit of what occurred, it's going to take some time.

    3) It's always interesting "when" and "why" people want IGs to comment on policy (as opposed to commenting on compliance with laws and regulations.)

    The line will always be grey (with the exception that everyone expects a review to deal with issues of efficiency, etc) but it is one thing for an IG to comment on whether or not the agency followed proper procedures (or lacked same and should have had them) it is another all together to have the IG criticizing a purely political decision. (Hey Congressman, let's have the IG review and issue a report on which crops are subsidized and which ones aren't and whether or not there is any correlation between that and campaign contributions).

    I can't help but notice that no one is asking the DOI IG to review whether or not the President and Congress should have launched the Recovery Act process at all . . .

    4) It will be very interesting to see what her review ultimately finds. I don't know if the Fed has "formal policies and procedures" upon which it bases its decisions or not, but I'd sure like to know . . . and if they don't I think the American people deserve to know why they don't and what they are going to do to develop some (and what the decision was based on if it wasn't on law and regulation) . . . and if the review finds that decisions are being made based on inappropriate criteria, then there would be grounds for an investigation . . .

    There's a big split in the IG community over how much information to give out before your review/audit is completed. I think she could have saved herself some pain if she had been willing to go into a little more detail about initial findings (assuming they found anything worth talking about).

    I wouldn't be willing to commit to a judgment regarding "policy" that early in the game. But I would have at least tried to steer the conversation to something that I could comment on, like what criteria I was using to do the review, for example: "Ordinarily we review the agency's actions against statutory and regulatory requirements before we analyze the efficiency of the program. However, our review has been complicated in this case, by:

    a) A failure of the agency to cooperate,

    b) A troubling lack of formal agency procedures in this area,

    c) A failure by the agency to document its decision making process . . .

    d) Whatever else she is finding that "is" concrete enough that you don't have to worry about it changing between now and the completion of the review and substantive enough to get the wolves off of her back . . .


  2. I suspected that comment might get a reaction. ;-)

    If you testify before Congress, you can expect some "gotcha"-type questioning. It's inevitable.

    He should be asking the agency head those questions, and I hope he does.


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