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“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR
A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery. Excerpt below:
You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.
Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.
They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.
We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.
We seek publicity because publicity has impact.
Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.
The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.
That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.
Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.
Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:
- Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
- Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
- Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
- Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
- Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
- Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
- Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.
As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.
When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.
Read the whole thing here.
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- The crumbling Afghan prison built with US cash (bbc.co.uk)
- IG: U.S. aid dollars unaccounted for in Afghan health program (washingtontimes.com)
- Top auditor for Afghan reconstruction draws bureaucrats’ ire (stripes.com)
- US Embassy in Kabul defends itself against blistering fraud reports (stripes.com)
- The US Is Still Spending Billions In Afghanistan, But No One Seems To Care (businessinsider.com)
- LATimes- Watchdog faults U.S. military’s oversight of aid to Afghanistan (latimes.com)
- Watchdog: US may be paying salaries of ‘ghost’ Afghan policemen (stripes.com)
- Military Blows $3 Million on Boats for Afghanistan, then Secretly Cancels Shipment (freebeacon.com)