IGs Devoid of Creativity?

In his April 4 Washington Post editorial, "The IG Ideology," Harvard professor and federal procurement expert Steve Kelman argues that federal government's inspectors general, by issuing critical reports on government operations, foster a culture of negativism and fear that perpetuates poor public management and retards efforts to improve government performance. "Many interpret IG reports as dishonoring employee commitment to the public good, a source of deep pain," Kelman concludes.

One of the problems with IGs, Kelman says, is that they rarely, if ever, offer creative solutions to the problems they uncover. Kelman writes in his Op-Ed:

When was the last time you heard an IG call for agencies to do more to develop creative, innovative solutions to problems? These aren't words IGs use, and this isn't how IGs think. Their remedies almost always involve the application of hoary management tools from the turn of the last century, such as having armies of inspectors check for defects rather than preventing problems in the first place, and constant surveillance of employees, who are assumed to be venal or incompetent.

There are at least some examples of IGs calling for creative solutions. Here’s one from 2004. That's when Robert Skinner, the IG at the Department of Homeland Security and the author of one of the reports Kelman cites in his editorial as having contributed to the corrosive IG ideology, issued the report "Major Management Challenges Facing the Department of Homeland Security." On page 8 of the report, Skinner criticizes top DHS management for not making the DHS chief information officer "a member of the senior management team with authority to strategically manage departmentwide technology assets and programs." (Skinner wrote the same conclusion in the 2005 management challenges report.)

Skinner then lists numerous shortcomings in the CIO's authority, but then he offers this: "The department would benefit from following the successful examples of other federal agencies in positioning their CIOs with the authority and influence needed to guide executive decisions on department-wide IT investments and strategies."

The idea of a CIO who has the authority to influence the strategic direction of an organization, while not entirely new, is a concept that only a small minority of executives running private-sector organizations have fully embraced, much less an idea adopted by federal agencies, if any have at all. A CIO with the authority to take part in strategic planning decisions is hardly a "hoary management tool from the turn of the last century."

To be sure, more positive suggestions from IGs (with more details on how an agency may accomplish the recommendation) are needed. IGs would help promote government performance by doing so. But IGs' creative ideas are out there. Besides, with an increasing number of investigations into questionable, unethical, or possibly illegal, management practices within agencies, one can argue a culture of oversight may be a reasonable reaction.

Does your experience indicate that IGs are fostering a culture of fear and not actively promoting solutions? Let us hear from you by clicking the "comments" link below.