Senators McCain and Reed Renew Request for Information on SIGAR Office of Special Projects

Washington, D.C. ­– Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent the following letter to The Honorable John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, renewing their request for information about the SIGAR Office of Special Projects and its use of professional auditing and inspection standards. The text of the letter follows below:

March 1, 2016

Dear Inspector General Sopko:

We received the December 4, 2015, and January 6, 2016, responses to our November 23, 2015, inquiry about the quality of a report published out of the Office of Special Projects in October 2015. We appreciate that you have agreed to review and make improvements to your agency protocols and the quality control procedures for your Office of Special Projects, and to specifically include a standardized statement on all Special Projects products clarifying that the work does not comply with Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS).

However, we write today to reiterate our request that you produce the policies and procedures followed by the Office of Special Projects, as well as the versions of the draft Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) station report that contain the changes made between August and October 2015. In our letter, we requested you detail the standards under which your Special Projects work is performed. Staff then clarified the request that you provide us with the policies and procedures for that office on December 16, 2015, and again on January 8, 2016. But while you reference the Special Project Policies and Procedures Manual in your response for the hearing record dated January 29, 2016, we have yet to receive any documents responsive to our request. Your continued failure to comply with this request is hindering the furtherance of the Committee’s oversight activities of Office of Inspector General (OIG) products within its jurisdiction.

As you know, published professional standards are in place to ensure that an OIG can conduct its work independently and objectively. Indeed, as you note in your own budget request for Fiscal Year 2017, using such standards “ensures the accuracy and credibility of findings, conclusions, and recommendations presented to the Congress and other decision-makers.” We understand from your written response to our letter, as well as your own protocols for working with federal agencies, that in establishing SIGAR’s Office of Special Projects, a decision was made that Special Projects were not Audits, Inspections, or Investigations and that they were therefore exempt from having to comply with published professional standards. We believe that there is a risk that the Special Projects work may not be as accurate, objective and complete as the work that is being conducted using published professional standards, as is the case with the CNG station report. Since Special Projects does not adhere to GAGAS, references to the Special Projects work following a “GAGAS-style” review process and adhering to the principles of GAGAS 1.04 and the use of the terms “sufficient” and “reliable” to describe the quality control processes and procedures followed by the office is confusing. To avoid misrepresenting the quality and rigor of the work to those who might use it, such as policy makers in Congress, we think it is important to understand what policies and procedures the Office of Special Projects is following to ensure quality, and how those processes were applied in the drafting of the CNG report.

With regard to our observations about the downward trend in the proportion of overall SIGAR products that are adhering to professional standards, we are confused by your office’s response that such products have increased rather than decreased. In your December 4 response, you disputed our accounting of the publicly issued products available on SIGAR’s website, which revealed that in Fiscal Year 2015 just over 50 percent of SIGAR’s publicly issued products adhered to published professional standards, as compared with almost 90 percent in Fiscal Year 2012. However, your January 6 response omits Inquiry Letters in your overall product totals, which you have counted in the last 10 of your Quarterly Reports to Congress since October 2013, including the one you just published in January. We request that you clarify your response in light of the above.

As you stated in your testimony, congressional oversight is important, and we are concerned that you have yet to provide us with the requested documentation of your quality control process and the edits to the CNG station report. We look forward to working with you to ensure that your proposed corrective actions fully address our concerns.

Sincerely, 
John McCain
Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
 
Jack Reed
Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee

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