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What does an Inspector General do?

T. Jay Kane
T. Jay Kane

An inspector general (IG) is the internal compliance officer of most governmental agencies, and the phrase typically refers to a title, not a rank. Each inspector general is usually appointed by the director of the agency he or she will serve. In most cases, the IG will be authorized to have a staff of inspectors and special agents to accomplish the mission of the office.

IG inspectors are non-law enforcement officials; mostly, they are tasked with conducting audits and inspections of agency policies and procedures to prevent agency waste and abuse. Special agents of an inspector general are individuals with full law enforcement powers and have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, carry weapons, make arrests, and serve warrants. Even though the mission of most inspectors general is to act as an internal enforcement body, many IG offices have duties that take them into everyday society. For example, special agents of the United States (US) Department of Education inspector general are responsible for investigating allegations of federal student aid fraud.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The duties and responsibilities of the IG to regulate and ensure compliance of US federal workers and programs were outlined in the Inspector General Act of 1978. Since that time, different inspectors general have saved the US taxpayers millions of dollars in fines and recovered revenue. US agencies and departments that employ an office of the IG include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Commerce, Department of Defense (DOD), and US Postal Service (USPS). Quasi-government agencies that employ an office of the IG include Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Peace Corps.

Since each governmental agency has different policies and guidelines, having an inspector general that understands the needs of each individual agency is more beneficial than requiring one staff to regulate the entire federal government at once. Dividing the task of internal regulation among each agency allows for greater efficiency from each IG to perform its duties as they relate to its corresponding agency of responsibility. For example, since the CIA has different needs and responsibilities than the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the IG from one could be at a disadvantage if asked to investigate matters relating to the other.

The IG of any agency ensures his or her agency acts with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity possible. He or she serves the taxpayers by ensuring that public funds are not wasted or stolen. The IG also ensures that government employees under his or her responsibility remain honest and efficient on behalf of the taxpayers whom he or she serves.

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