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What is the function of offices of inspector general?

UPDATED: January 28, 2009

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Congress enacted the Inspector General Act of 1978 (the "IG Act") to combat fraud, abuse, and waste in the "programs and operations" of federal departments and agencies (see 5 U.S.C. app. 3).

Congress passed the IG Act after hearing evidence that fraud and waste had reached epidemic proportions within the Federal Government. Congress's solution to the problem was the creation of Offices of Inspector General within executive agencies.

There currently exists fifty-eight such Offices of Inspector General. Although the IG Act does not define the terms "programs" and "operations," the terms have been interpreted to authorize the audit and investigation of (1) federal fund recipients, such as contractors and grantees, to determine if they are complying with federal laws and regulations; and (2) the policies and actions of federal employees. See Authority of the Inspector General to Conduct Regulatory Investigations, 13 Op. Off. Leg. Counsel 63, 79 (March 9, 1989).

Congress has equipped the Offices of Inspector General with incredibly broad powers while requiring that they be independent from the federal agencies that they are obligated to oversee. In this regard, the Offices of Inspector General possess broad subpoena power in conducting its investigations. The courts are willing to enforce a subpoena issued by an Office of Inspector General upon a showing far less than the "probable cause" showing needed in search warrant situations. Consequently, the various Offices of Inspector General are well-equipped to uncover fraudulent activity on the part of those who contract with the Government.

In addition to uncovering defective pricing-type of violations, the Offices of Inspector General may uncover information that results in civil liability or criminal liability or both under the false claims or false statements statutes.

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