Watchdog: Accountability

President Obama nominates USAID IG, but many watchdog vacancies remain unfilled

By |
Watchdog,Michal Conger,Barack Obama,President,Foreign Aid,State Department,USAID,Inspectors General,Waste and Fraud,Accountability

President Obama has nominated Michael A. Carroll as inspector general for the U.S. Agency for International Development, an appointment that would fill a nearly two-year vacancy.

Carroll, who has served as the acting IG at USAID since 2011, has a long history with the agency's oversight office. He was deputy IG from 2006 to 2011, and before that was assistant inspector general for management.

He also served a stint as director of administration for the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security from 2004 to 2006. The BIS keeps an eye on technology transfers from U.S. firms to foreign governments and companies.

Appointing someone from within an IG office has upsides and downsides, with the most significant of the latter being the potentially negative impact on an individual's independence, according to Joe Newman of the Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit watchdog group.

"What we ask of our IGs is that they come in and are aggressive and aren't intimidated by people who are at the top of the agencies," Newman said.

USAID has 87 international offices and spends billions of dollars every year on development and humanitarian projects overseas.

But USAID often flies under the radar, Newman said, so its involvement with foreign governments and projects means the agency needs strong oversight.

The biggest internal challenges the new IG will confront at USAID are assessing potential projects for weakness to avoid wasting money on unsuccessful grants; reporting accurate data that helps make decisions about future projects; and conducting audits of the U.S. for-profit companies that do a large share of its work.

The agency had a backlog of 370 unfinished audits as of September 2012. An agreement had been reached with the Defense Contract Audit Agency to do the audits, but DCAA has been slow to respond, according to USAID, so it has contracted with an auditing firm to help clear the backlog. In 2010, DCAA only completed 10 percent of audits within its 12-month goal.

USAID's biggest contractor, Chemonics International, is a for-profit company that received $735 million from the agency in 2011 for more than 100 projects around the world.

Carroll's nomination is one of several Obama has made in the last month. Obama has allowed at least seven IG positions to remain vacant for extended periods, including the State Department slot throughout former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's five-year tenure.

Three of the seven vacancies now have nominees awaiting Senate confirmation, including Carroll.

Obama's slowness in filling vacant IG positions has drawn fire from critics in the non-profit watchdog and transparency communities.

"Inspectors General are the American people's inside advocates at federal agencies," said Mary Beth Hutchins, a spokesman for one such group, Cause of Action.

Without an IG overseeing them, deputy IGs can be granted too much autonomy, which can lead to accusations of waste and corruption, Hutchins said. She pointed to Charles Edwards, the acting IG at the Department of Homeland Security who is presently under investigation for complaints of nepotism and misconduct. Edwards has vigorously denied the allegations.

"If this is an administration committed to transparency and accountability, an Inspector General should be in place at each agency to actively root out the problems that have led to the GSA spending scandal, the IRS political targeting scandal, and the EPA private email scandal," Hutchins said.

View article comments Leave a comment