- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Federal investigators have announced plans to boost resources for whistleblowers reporting fraud, corruption and other wrongdoing.

The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General is increasing its use of analytics and artificial intelligence to support whistleblowers, while the Council of the Inspectors General, which represents more than 70 federal inspectors general, is making it easier to protect those reporting problems.

At the Pentagon, supporting whistleblowers is part of a larger push to more “proactively look for fraud” and address complaints, which were widely seen as being bogged down by slow and ineffective formal investigations. Traditionally, whistleblowers have battled a culture of retaliation and intimidation.

“In many different ways, it [analytics and artificial intelligence] can be used to proactively look for fraud so that we’re not relying on people that actually come to us to expose fraud,” said acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

DODIG also faces significant logistical challenges fighting waste at the world’s largest organization. Its 1,800 employees oversee more than 3 million troops, contractors and civilian staff; an annual budget of more than $700 billion; and more than $2.7 trillion in assets, including more than 20 million acres of real estate — roughly the size of Pennsylvania.

Moreover, a Pentagon hotline to report fraud receives, on average, more than 10,000 calls a year. Officials have said the massive scope of their mission contributed to a backlog of whistleblower cases.

Speaking Tuesday at a conference marking National Whistleblower Day, Mr. Fine said investigators had made a “concerted effort” to tackle that backlog. High-priority complaints — those dealing with threats to life or safety — now are reviewed in one day as opposed to five, he said.

Analytics and artificial intelligence solutions, including an “intelligent phone tree,” is helping complaints reach the right departments faster.

According to David Yacobucci, assistant IG for analytics, high-tech tools were not replacing human leads. Instead, they were helping auditors to untangle complex problems — or “help narrow the haystacks” they were investigating, he told the Federal News Network.

Recent months also have seen the Pentagon using a neutral arbiter in whistleblower cases, especially those brought by contracted employees.

Late last year, Pentagon whistleblowers came under increased scrutiny after a DODIG report recounted multiple instances of professional retaliation against those reporting fraud.

Those allegations led Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, to say “unfortunately, whistleblowers are all too often treated like skunks at a picnic.”

Capitol Hill lawmakers recently provided $2 million to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to improve Oversight.gov, the main whistleblower resource page.

On Tuesday in honor of whistleblowers, the council released a beta test of the improved resource page which simplifies the fraud reporting disclosure process for federal employees and contractors.

In May the Government Accountability Office issued a report analyzing the DODIG’s efforts to streamline and safeguard whistleblower complaints.

The GAO generally commended the Pentagon on improving the speed with which complaints were addressed, in addition to the quality of investigations. But it did note that “some gas exists” regarding protecting whistleblower confidentiality.

In response, the DODIG said it generally concurred with the GAO’s recommendations. However, it also noted the watchdog “gave a misleading impression” on some issues, including survey data on its internal confidentiality protections.

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