Inspectors general across government need modern tools in their fight against fraud.
As the United States government works to distribute $2 trillion in aid provided by the CARES Act—and potential additional funds in follow-on legislation. The federal inspector general community is poised to play a critical role in providing oversight to ensure the prevention of fraud, waste and abuse. The effort will be bolstered by the creation of a new Special Inspector General and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee within the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). However, the existing technology and mission capabilities of most federal inspector general offices (OIGs) limit their ability to provide adequate oversight to funding of CARES Act magnitude. It is in the best interest of OIGs to create an “oversight toolkit,” or collection of relevant technology platforms and tools, to adequately carry out responsibilities and fully leverage existing and proven technology investments.
The need for modern capabilities among federal OIGs overseeing CARES Act execution directly impacts American taxpayers and businesses hoping to receive much needed financial relief on time (or, in some cases, at all). It also reduces the deterrent effect on fraudulent and inappropriate activities across the agencies mobilizing to carry out federal aid. Creating an oversight toolkit can deliver immediate value for the OIG community. It can also significantly reduce the typical timelines for establishing operational and mission capabilities by minimizing hurdles around procurement and IT expertise.
In the past few years, several federal OIGs have conducted modernization efforts to institute modern technology capabilities with the ability to transform the way the government plans, organizes and manages work. In many cases, this process has involved the deployment of advanced predictive analytics platforms—along with artificial intelligence and machine learning—to aid inspectors general in their fight against fraud. But limitations remain for OIGs across a federal government that:
- Relies on out-of-date technology that can be anywhere from a few years to several decades old.
- Lacks efficient, integrated and optimized tools to manage their workload.
- Increases the time it takes to complete audits, studies and investigations.
- Uses manual data analytics and data sampling to identify fraud due to the lack of scalable technology platforms and infrastructure.
- Relies on basic email, spreadsheets and physical documents to conduct work.
Further, many technology resources in place at some OIGs are not scalable or sustainable enough to handle the sheer amount of work that needs to be done to properly oversee $2 trillion funding. That’s why it’s worth considering combining current technology investments with new procurements to create the oversight toolkit that will help realize the mandate of the new Special Treasury IG and Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. This approach will not only help accelerate the deployment of capabilities for pandemic oversight but also introduce a new standard for federal OIG collaboration and reuse in the future.
In practice, the oversight toolkit should enable the Special Treasury Inspector General and Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to:
- Significantly decrease the time to produce each OIG resource like reports and studies.
- Provide earlier detection of fraudulent activities and eliminate legacy technology constraints for the OIG workforce.
- Augment the OIG workforce and increase the throughput of auditors, investigators, and evaluators.
- Facilitate better management of reporting and communications needs between, existing IGs, Special Treasury IG, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Congress.
- Reuse technology and tools that have already been procured, built, secured and assessed for compliance.
- Deliver much greater transparency into the oversight work and the value CARES Act is delivering to the American people.
OIG offices with available modern digital capabilities should share their systems infrastructure, platforms and application code needed to establish foundational services for oversight in other OIGs across federal government. They should prioritize advanced work management and fraud analytics tools that can be quickly deployed to provide immediate mission capabilities. OIGs providing infrastructure and tools to others should be able to recover the software and resource cost for hosting, operating and securing these infrastructures from funding appropriated for the Special Treasury IG and Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Standing up the Special OIG and committee is difficult in a vacuum, let alone in the face of a global pandemic. Finding and deploying the right technology capabilities will be critical in helping federal OIGs answer the call. Creating and deploying an Oversight Toolkit will help them stay focused on the task-at-hand: fighting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse of CARES Act funding.
Evan Lee is a vice president at ICF. He previously served as chief technology officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.