Yesterday the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services and the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committees urging them to continue their oversight of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), since the news we're getting from within the DCAA is that recent changes (including bringing in new leadership) have failed to address systemic problems at the agency. The whole letter can be found here, but a few of the highlights:
- Resisting grassroots efforts to address problems raised by GAO and Inspector General
DCAA has assembled a number of groups to examine the agency's practices and figure out a way forward. One group was uniquely formed as a kind of "grassroots" group of auditors from within the agency that wanted to examine DCAA's promotion practices. Currently, there is a perception within the agency that auditors are promoted based on how loyal they are to management — a preliminary POGO examination of the promotion forms also gave us reason to be concerned about whether the process rewarded merit and the independence necessary to root out wasteful spending in federal agencies. But when this reform group sought information that would allow them to do compliance testing to see if this loyalty perception was valid, DCAA headquarters denied their request and the group disbanded. A new group has been formed in the interim, and will not conduct this compliance testing, but time will only tell what the group will find, and how DCAA will act on these findings. But POGO worries that this resistance from DCAA headquarters may be indicative of a systemic resistance from management to really change their ways.
A Hostile Hotline?
In response to allegations that DCAA had a hostile working environment, the agency created a hotline for auditors to report conflicts with management. But auditors tell us that there are concerns as to whether this hotline is effective, particularly since as it stands now the findings from any hotline investigation are reported to the manager of that region — likely the person who is at least indirectly responsible for any misconduct, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. In our letter we told the Senators that it would be a substantial improvement to this system if managers from a region different from where the alleged misconduct occurred were the authorities for determining corrective actions. One DCAA auditor has since told us that the role of determining legitimacy of hotline concerns would be ideally served by someone even more independent, like the Department of Defense Inspector General.
- DCAA Still Desperate For Accountability
The overwhelming message from the auditors that have approached POGO is that they've seen lots of criticism and outrage, but little to no action to hold bad managers and supervisors accountable for inappropriately changing audit opinions, facilitating “cozy” relationships with contractors, or creating an abusive work environment. Real change cannot occur at DCAA until this happens, and this needs to be a focus for the new DCAA Director.
The problems at DCAA are not new (in our letter, we cite the case of George Stanton, a DCAA auditor who was retaliated against for challenging contractors in 1982), and we question the capacity for real reform at DCAA as long as it is within the Department of Defense. Comments on our blog suggest that there is interest and support for establishing an independent federal contract audit agency, and we continue to urge Congress to make DCAA part of that agency in order to make it a strong and independent contract auditor.
As always, we look forward to our readers comments. Do you think the promotion system at DCAA is a problem? Do you feel that the new leadership is addressing the problems at the agency? We've received one anonymous letter from a DCAA auditor expressing concerns that he's stuck in headquarters and doesn't have enough contact with field auditors on the ground to be able to really monitor how the agency's doing — does this ring true?
-- Mandy Smithberger