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News | May 16, 2018

In-house IG hotline offers accelerated solutions

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

“We have an IG. A full up, regular inspector general. If you think there’s something going on in the organization … call the IG,” said Navy Vice Adm. David Lewis, Defense Contract Management Agency’s director, during a recent global workforce engagement.

As one of Lewis’ first agency actions, the commander established an Office of Internal Audit and Inspector General in 2017. For the year-old entity, the DCMA IG hotline plays a key role in report generation. Team members can submit reports online anytime or anywhere or call 844-551-2067. Once a report is received, the review and intake process begins.

“To pursue complaints and function at an optimal level, DCMA IG’s core mission relies heavily on employee vigilance,” said Bob Conforto, the agency’s OIA IG executive director. “All complaints, issues, concerns and allegations are reviewed upon receipt, and if there are clear violations of a law, regulation or policy, then an investigation is initiated. An investigation is not always the result, but we take each submission seriously to ensure the agency maintains an ethical and professional environment.”

While reporting numbers have remained consistent since its launch, agency employees are still favoring the Department of Defense reporting system over the direct-to-investigator internal reporting option. The lack of direct reporting has concerned Conforto and his staff as most DoD IG submitted complaints are sent to DCMA anyway.

“The DoD IG just returns the referral to us as either an information referral or an action referral,” said Conforto. “In the last four years, I have only seen the DoD IG investigate one of DCMA’s initial allegations directly.”

Ernie Muñoz, a DCMA OIA IG investigator, said his team wants to build confidence in the internal reporting system to expedite the process for all involved.

“Team members who elect to use our hotline instead of the DoD hotline benefit from a more direct and expedited reporting and investigative process,” said Muñoz. “Our hotline complaints are received and processed by the DCMA hotline coordinator who is a trained agency investigator. Complaints are immediately assessed and routed to an agency investigator or other appropriate office for action.”

Since May 2017, the DoD IG and other reporting avenues have totaled more than 75 percent of DCMA complaints — with only 16 percent coming from the internal DCMA hotline.

“From what we have heard from the field, the reluctance to report through the hotline is partly the perception that the IG is not independent and will turn around and tell the subject of the complaint what the complainant reported,” said Amy Zorgdrager, the agency’s assistant IG for investigations. “This is not the case. We cannot release the name of the complainant outside of IG channels without the consent of the complainant.”

Zorgdrager further explained that complainants are legally protected from identity disclosure by the Inspector General Act of 1978, “except when consent is given by the complainant or disclosure is unavoidable during the course of the investigation, as determined by the IG. Providing a name and contact information with a complaint does not constitute the release of your identity outside of IG channels. Rather, it allows investigators an avenue of obtaining additional information to ensure a complainants concerns are fully addressed.”

According to the agency’s investigators, the second bite of the informational apple can prove critical when complex complaints are received, as an initial report with too little information can leave investigators with few options as they seek resolution. Too often, failure to leave a name or contact information means the chance of an investigation is very low.

The agency’s IG team said disclosure concerns and the connected fear of reprisal stem from a misunderstanding regarding its independence. According to DoD Hotline Program Instruction 7050.01: “In all matters relating to investigative work, personnel and organizations conducting the inquiry must be independent, both in fact and appearance. Individuals assigned to conduct and review the hotline inquiry must be outside the immediate chain of command of both the individual submitting the allegation(s) and the individual(s) accused of wrongdoing.”

Zorgdrager said her team holds this instruction in the highest regard and hopes a new operational focus will reaffirm employee confidence.

“To improve employee trust, we plan to attend more outreach and leadership events to explain our role,” she said. “We hope that giving employees the opportunity to see who we are and ask any question they would like will help create a relationship of trust.”

That trust begins with an employee’s ethical decision and the click of a mouse. In an effort to provide team members an added layer of anonymity, Muñoz said the IG team ensured the reporting systems were accessible through a public website.

“We want team members to have the option of a comfortable environment when reporting potential violations,” said Muñoz. “Our job is to hold government employees and contractors accountable for their actions. The hotline is designed to improve transparency and develop a culture of caring, and we are working hard each day to pursue that goal. In certain situations an employee may feel uncomfortable or intimidated to file a report from their work computer. The public website provides employees the freedom to submit a report from anywhere.”

The IG website offers personnel multiple ways to report “violations of law, rule or regulation, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority and classified information leaks involving the Department of Defense; as well as the detection and prevention of threats and danger to the public health and safety of the Department (of Defense) and our nation.”

Online reporting options include: the DCMA hotline, the Insider Threat Program, the DoD IG hotline, the Safety and Occupational Health reporting system and DCMA FraudNET.

“These reporting systems are vital to the health and long-term viability of our organization,” said Conforto. “We must hold ourselves, our coworkers and contractors accountable when improper actions are taken. The taxpayers put their trust in us, and we must reward that trust with integrity and responsibility.”