- The Honorable Peggy E. Gustafson, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce
- The Honorable John Roth, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Ms. Allison C. Lerner, Inspector General, National Science Foundation
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Full committee hearing
This hearing will take place in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room G50. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman John Thune
Good morning. Last week, this Committee held a hearing on reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens. We heard from stakeholders representing several sectors of the American economy about ways government agencies can regulate smarter – protecting public safety and market fairness while fostering economic growth and innovation.
Today, we will discuss another important way to make government more efficient and effective – by identifying and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in federal departments and agencies. For this task, there is no more effective tool than the inspectors general.
Created by the Inspector General Act of 1978, IGs serve as watchdogs over more than 70 federal agencies. According to the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, agency incorporation of IG recommendations led to $26 billion in potential savings in fiscal year 2015, and IG criminal and civil cases led to another $10.3 billion returned to the treasury. These figures amount to $14 saved for every taxpayer dollar invested in the work of the IGs.
This year marks the beginning of a new administration, and it will be important for new department and agency heads to be fully aware of the issues that have plagued their organizations in recent years.
Each of the IGs on the panel today recently published the top management challenges of their agencies for the new fiscal year. In addition to these, we will be discussing some of the hundreds of IG recommendations that remain open after, in some cases, several years.
The Department of Commerce faces a number of challenges across its agencies. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages the acquisition and development of critical weather satellites, and will have to address cost and schedule overruns, while avoiding gaps in satellite coverage.
FirstNet, which is an independent authority within the Commerce Department, is also reaching critical early stages in its rollout of a nationwide public safety broadband network, and I believe FirstNet will continue to benefit greatly from rigorous oversight by the inspector general.
New Commerce Department leadership will also have to ensure that all of the Department’s employees respect and follow government spending rules in the wake of an IG investigation into unjustified spending by the former Under Secretary for International Trade.
The National Science Foundation will have to address significant issues it has had keeping its large facilities, such as the National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, on time and on budget.
The Committee ensured additional oversight of these facilities in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, and we’ll be eager to see these implemented.
The Department of Homeland Security oversees two components that are essential for ensuring the safety of our nation’s transportation system: the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.
The Coast Guard will have to tackle the challenges of improving cybersecurity, information management, and financial reporting.
TSA has had several high profile issues in recent years, including airport security failures discovered by IG red team testing, as well as breaches involving the Secure Identification Display Area, or SIDA, badges of airport employees.
This Committee worked to address these issues in the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, but new Department leadership will have to continue to work with DHS OIG to ensure the ongoing safety of the traveling public.
Finally, the Department of Transportation’s major challenges include setting up the playing field for revolutionary new transportation technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles and self-driving vehicles while also maintaining a world-class standard of safety.
The Department must also more effectively manage the series of major upgrade programs to the National Airspace System known collectively as NextGen and ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of the FAST Act. This work will inform our discussions as we work to craft an FAA reauthorization bill this year.
Finally, I would like to address briefly some recent developments within the IG community.
The media has reported that the new administration’s transition team considered removing some IGs. It appears, however, that they quickly changed their minds and notified these IGs, including Mr. Roth and Mr. Scovel, that they would not be removed. I am confident that incoming agency leadership will continue to find the oversight work of their IGs to be as invaluable as I have.
I’m grateful that the Trump Administration is not behaving in the manner that the Obama Administration did in its first few months in power, when it fired the inspector general of AmeriCorps during his investigation of a prominent supporter of President Obama.
We have testifying before us today a distinguished all-IG panel. The Honorable Peggy Gustafson, Inspector General of the Department of Commerce—who, I would note, has been on the job at Commerce for only about three weeks, though she is a veteran IG; Ms. Allison Lerner, Inspector General of the National Science Foundation, who also served for nearly twenty years in leadership roles within the Commerce Department IG’s office; the Honorable John Roth, Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, who spent 25 years in high-profile positions within the Department of Justice; and the Honorable Calvin Scovel III, Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, who last year celebrated a decade of service as DOT’s inspector general—which followed a distinguished, 29-year career with the U.S. Marine Corps. I want to thank you all for being here and look forward to a productive discussion.
I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for any opening remarks.
Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling this important hearing.
Inspectors general throughout the federal government play a critical role in ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse and ensuring that agencies serve as good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
For example, the Department of Commerce IG’s office identified approximately $1 billion in financial benefits and potential cost savings for fiscal years 2011 through 2015, while receiving $225.3 million in appropriations – that’s a return on investment of $5.43 for every dollar invested in the office.
And the other offices represented here today have shown similarly impressive returns on investment.
In addition, inspectors general ensure that federal employees are not muzzled by their superiors when they challenge efforts to distort, misrepresent, or suppress scientific research and analysis.
Sadly, we are seeing increasing attempts by some special interests to keep agencies from reporting scientific data and studies on critical public health and safety issues – such as climate change and sea level rise.
I will not stand for its suppression – and hope none of our IGs will either. That is why late yesterday, 26 senators, including many on this committee, joined me in filing legislation to protect science and scientists from political interference. The legislation would ensure that federal scientists can communicate their findings with the public, news media and Congress. It also requires federal agencies to implement and enforce scientific integrity policies and ensure procedures are in place to report instances when integrity policies are broken.
At the end of the day, inspectors general should play an important role in protecting whistleblowers who believe scientific integrity has been compromised.
But to carry out these vital functions, they must have one thing: independence.
Recently, The Washington Post and other news outlets reported that members of the administration’s transition team contacted a number of IGs and told them that they were “temporary holdovers” and may be replaced.
Needless to say, this senator found the news to be troubling, especially since inspectors general have always been seen as independent entities that should only be removed for cause.
Last week, I sent letters to 11 IGs under this committee’s jurisdiction to inquire further about the nature and extent of these transition team contacts and to learn more about each agency’s whistleblower policies.
I’ve received responses from all 11 inspectors general. Both the Department of Transportation and Homeland Security IGs have confirmed to me that they were contacted by the transition team and initially informed they would only serve on a temporary basis.
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to ask that these letters be entered into the record.
During today’s hearing, it’s my hope we can learn more about how we can ensure the independence of these offices. I also look forward to hearing how the inspectors general will work to ensure that the integrity of the scientific process is protected.
I now look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Peggy GustafsonInspector GeneralU.S. Department of CommercePeggy E. Gustafson Testimony.pdf (254.28 KB)
The Honorable John RothInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Homeland Security
The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel IIIInspector GeneralU.S. Department of TransportationDOT OIG TMC Hearing statement.pdf (202.26 KB)
Ms. Allison C. LernerInspector GeneralNational Science FoundationNSF IG Lerner Testimony.pdf (1.07 MB)