In a recent article on the independence and accountability of Inspectors General, former government official Don Upson makes a great point. Because federal IGs oversee Executive Branch agencies but provide reports to Congress, they can be viewed with suspicion by agency staff. This suspicion is greatly enhanced if a member of Congress uses the IG’s report to bring an agency head into Congress and berate them in front of TV cameras – and then use that video on their own campaign ads months later. Whether it’s their intent or not, IG offices end up looking like tools that legislators use to attack the government for political advantage.
About this problem, Upson says:
“These beliefs engender suspicion and do not serve government well. That these perceptions exist is as much the fault of the executive branch -- in its failures to include and regularly interact with the IG community as part of mission operations -- as it is with Congress for adding more IG authorities and encouraging sometimes-sensational IG reporting.”
If greater involvement of IGs in agency operations would lead to more trust and better relations with the agencies, what can IGs do to encourage this involvement? Here are two ways to accomplish this.
One of the most important ways you can build trust and familiarity with agency employees is to communicate with them regularly. This is true for employees all the way up and down the organization. Whether this is through emails, lunch and learn type events, or even hallway conversations, consistent communication will help make employees more knowledgeable and more comfortable with what you do. Those two things are related – people are much less likely to trust things they don’t know much about.
Investigators are already perceived as knowledgeable staff in respected positions. This means that communication with employees should focus on making you appear more human and accessible. Agency staff are more likely to communicate with investigators if they see them as individuals working towards a common goal, rather than a bureaucracy of prosecutors or enforcement specialists.
Provide Examples of Agency Work
It’s important for employees to understand that IGs aren’t trying to find as many people as possible to arrest or publicly embarrass in the press – those are the edge cases for particularly egregious behavior. The run-of-the-mill case work, which represents the bulk of what inspectors do, is focused on helping to improve processes, or ensuring that money is being used responsibly. Both of those are goals that every staff member should agree are positive and reasonable. Anytime you can show that both you and the employees have mutual interests, make sure to take that opportunity.
Providing these examples also shows them what types of issues to report. This accomplishes two things. First, once employees realize that you aren’t prioritizing cases where someone accidentally used the wrong credit card to buy lunch at Subway, they’re not going to be as frightened about what kind of threat you represent to them personally. Second, if they do see improper activity around them, they’ll realize that it’s exactly the type of behavior you’re trying to root out, and they’re more likely to send a tip along to the IG office.
To learn about how CMTS can help your agency improve efficiency and close more cases, call us at 919.600.5102 or email Team_CMTS@WingSwept.com.