PITTSBURGH – “It’s getting warm in here,” Greg Cissell noted, an inspection team leader for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Inspector General office.
The conference room air conditioning had not kicked on yet, so the air felt stagnant as people entered through the door.
“Usually, we’re the ones turning up the heat on others, but it feels like you’re turning up the heat on us,” Cissell joked as he prepared to interview employees for a routine inspection.
He and his colleague, Jim Edinger, shook hands with members of the Pittsburgh District as they sat down to talk.
The joke about turning up the heat comes with the territory of working as an IG inspector, Cissell said, but he was quick to clarify that inspections and investigations are only a fraction of what IG officers do.
“Teaching and training are the most important functions of the IG office. While we are not the subject matter expert in every area, we make sure we can go out and show people what ‘right’ looks like,” Cissell said.
He said the Army Corps is such a trusted and reliable organization because of the laws, policies, and Department of Defense regulations that govern it. The IG office exists to help ensure that reputation continues.
“We want to ensure people do things right,” Cissell said.
During each visit, the team offers an open-door opportunity for employees to come with questions, concerns, or complaints. Unlike the inspection portion, the team holds those conversations in private. Employees who seek IG assistance remain anonymous.
“It is every employee’s right to see the IG. While we’re on-site, we’re here to help them with their needs, too. If it’s a complicated issue, we will pass that to investigators back in the headquarters for further discussion,” said Edinger.
Usually, their open-door period is relatively quiet, he said.
“We don’t get very many complaints. There’s not going to be a line around the block,” Edinger said, which indicates a healthy organization built on trust with employees and leaders who follow policies.
“Folks seem pretty happy in this organization,” he said.
Other functions of the IG office include educating staff on laws that impact their work and assisting anyone who submits a complaint. Additionally, they investigate situations when directed by the commander and conduct inspections on various topics.
Currently, Cissell and Edinger are performing an inspection on logistics. When they interview employees, their conversations are more casual than interrogative.
At the Pittsburgh District, the discussion revolved around managing assets, fuel usage, using government vehicles, stewarding government equipment, and paying for utilities. The Pittsburgh District operates more than 40 facilities across a five-state-wide footprint with several fleets of government vehicles. Therefore, careful measures are in place to ensure assets are appropriately managed.
“We look for compliance, and another big thing is we look for best practices. So, we try to find places that are doing things really well, and we share information with other places as best practices for them to emulate,” said Cissell. “Hopefully, it makes us better overall across the enterprise.”
Inspections like this are routine events. When an IG team visits, Cissel said it does not indicate that anyone is committing fraud, waste, or abuse. Each year, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, directs his IG office to conduct several investigations on critical topics. This year, inspector teams focus on logistics, teleworking and military human resources.
Inspections are detailed and take several months to complete, from the beginning of the planning phase to delivering the final report. Each inspection team visits multiple offices. For example, the logistics inspection team is visiting five division headquarters, 11 district offices, and at least eight project and other field sites. They began planning in March and expect to deliver their final report by September.
Cissell and Edinger encourage all employees to resolve issues at the lowest level and work through the chain of command first. However, anyone can contact the IG office to file a complaint or to request assistance.
“I tell people all the time when you come to see us; there’s a guarantee you’re going to get an answer. It might not always be the answer you want, but we will always make sure to provide you with the right information,” Cissell said.
Contact information for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers IG office may be found on the corps’ website: https://go.usa.gov/xSgbK