Monitoring Government. – Inspectors General and the search for accountability. – Paul C. Light. – The Brookings Institution. – The Governance Institute – Washington DC

Monitoring Government. – Inspectors General and the search for accountability. – Paul C. Light. – The Brookings Institution. – The Governance Institute – Washington DC


The book of Paul Light highlights 8 innovations that occurred in the US Inspector general system:

1. Presidential officers in government who report to both Congress and the President (Department of Justice vehemently opposed to that in 1978).
2. They are selected without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability.
3. Fully removable by the President requiring only notification to Congress.
4. There is a combination of two different professions, auditing and investigation into a single operating unit.
5. The system gives them high latitude in the hiring and structuring of their offices and statutory guarantees.
6. They produce semi-annual reports to Congress with highly detailed formats.
7. They have enormous authority to blow the whistle on their departments and agencies through issuance of a warning letter that the Secretary or administrator can hold for 7 days but cannot edit or kill.
8. They are the strong right arms of their departments and agencies, yet also provide indirect access to information for any member, committee, or subcommittee of Congress.


1. Compliance accountability that is the preferred method of control based on assuring conformity with rules and regulations thorough the 1980’s:

• Negative sanctions inside and outside at the level of government’s contractors or beneficiaries; then punishment is a value in the accountability system;
• Correcting problems after they occur.

That system is perceived as generating great volume of findings and failures, then engendering higher visibility, also many recommendations for actions less expensive and faster to implement.

2. Performance accountability that privilege the followings:

  • Establishment of incentives and rewards for the attainment of desired outcomes;
  • From the beginning a leadership driving individuals towards the preferred results.

3. Capacity-based accountability that aims to:

  • Create organizational competences through technologies, people, systems, and structures;
  • Maintain conditions of success through initial investment;
  •  Build organizations that are staffed trained structured and equipped to be effective.


  • How professional are they?
  • How deep is the audit and investigation’s coverage?
  • How good are the cases?
  • How visible are the results?

Let’s sum up some criteria recalled by the author below:

A. Professionalism according to the General Accountability Office quoted by the author requires:

  • independence from the targets and for the IGs to be free from “personal and external impairments to independence”;
  • appropriate human resources management as training courses;
  • audit supervision, the appropriateness of audit evidences and of the investigation planning.

B. Resolving the coverage challenge should require that the followings to be addressed:

  • Building staff, in sum an appropriate staffing strategy whose growth will help to maintain an adequate coverage;
  • Some ratios could help i.e. One calculated on the basis of Total IGs Staff divided by Total Department covered; ii) Total IGs Staff divided by the Total Budget Outlays of the Department…

C. Visibility, Quality and Getting noticed could be enhanced through the following:

  • Having potential offenders understand the consequences of their choices and believe that they will get caught if they don’t comply with norms, rules, transparency and others required values;
  • Congress and administrators can act on IG’s recommendations their staff being ready to read the reports;
  • Comparing or balancing Quality versus Quantity and being convinced that the visibility of data does not always mean impact;
  • Considering the question if visibility is a true indicator of performance as it can depend on factors as the size and the budget, the capacity of IGs to deploy staff, the number of auditors and investigators…

D. An important question: what could explain the effectiveness of the IGS?

The author explains to us that the effectiveness involves much more than only catching the bad guys. So for him the long-run success of the IG’s concept should be only measured by the quality of life produced by government. The book traces some useful questions to administer:

  • Has the system added some value as curbing vulnerabilities?
  • Does the government producing outcomes of greater public values?
  • Enhancing trust? Is anyone listening?
  • Does the public more trust?
  • Is the government less vulnerable to fraud waste, and abuse?


Despite progress made, and savings coming from the IG’s actions, convictions are not declining. The author challenges the fact that are prevailing a short term results approach based compliance and not enough on capacity, an emphasis on rewards for producing the dollar savings and convictions, the necessity of producing high volume of findings and low cost recommendations. In addition, by the 1980s, only few IGs were doing evaluations or were able to do it. So the system is confined on narrow compliance monitoring emphasizing criminal investigations.

Ultimately the author invites to take into account some criteria apt to design the future around the following questions:

  • What is the best way to increase accountability?
  • What kinds of monitoring are most useful in the effort to improve government accountability?
  •  What is the best way to assure objectivity whatever the IG’s role is?

To these questions, Light brings some answers summarized below:

A. Improving accountability

Compliance accountability can distract the President and the Congress from addressing the hard questions of designing institutions and programs to work better from the beginning not to mention that such an approach can be very expensive.

B. Improving monitoring

One main point that the author addresses is to know the most useful kind of monitoring recalling that if IGs provides findings and recommendations they cannot order changes within their departments and agencies nor suspend the ongoing programs. Then the author wanders if it should not be foreseeable to go from compliance monitoring to evaluation and analysis. Nevertheless he highlights the fact that going toward evaluation is not without risks; doing so could fully allows IGs to engage in researches that produce useful programs’ reforms.

C. Enhancing objectivity

To enhance objectivity, the book of Light shed light on some recommendations:

  • restricting the President’s removal power so to face political protection and giving a fix term office;
  • establishing the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) through statute and putting in place a permanent PCIE’s staff;
  • requiring simultaneous budget transmission to the Congress and the President.

It could be possible to summarize the major development of this book quoting the author when he writes that:

“Speaking truth to power – as the IGs will have to do as they dig through issues of institutional design, program workability, and evaluation – demands a commitment that is impossible to encode in a statute. The safer route politically is to remain firmly focused on post-audit and investigation, where the crooks are easy to identify and the sanctions obvious. The more difficult path demands forward-looking evaluation and analysis of the mistakes that are made in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and by interest groups.

Yet this may be where the IG concept promises its greatest payoff.”

Abdou Karim GUEYE
Certified Coach Speaker and Trainer at John Maxwell Team
Ancien directeur de l’Ecole Nationale d’Administration
et de Magistrature.

Premium Member of the Sarbanes-Oxley Ac

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