Offices of Inspectors General can be powerful forces for constructive change. Robust federal legislation and a long history protect federal offices of inspectors general; their independent oversight authority is firmly established and widely respected.1 In contrast, when I became its Inspector General in 2009, the New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG or Office) was a nascent entity in a city with no history of effective oversight. The Office faced misunderstandings about its role, resistance to the Office’s authority, efforts to undermine the Office’s independence, and citizens who were either unaware or misinformed about its work.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina unloosed a powerful passion for government reform. In its aftermath, reform-minded New Orleans city councilmembers and local civic and not-for-profit advocacy groups joined efforts to rebuild New Orleans as a more honest and just city. Councilmembers unanimously passed legislation establishing the OIG in 2007. And in mid-2008, Councilmembers joined with a strong coalition of citizen groups to approve an ordinance to place an independent police monitor division within the OIG and amend the City Charter to provide the OIG with a dedicated funding stream.2
The OIG enjoys distinct advantages similar to federal inspector general (IG) offices: Its establishing legislation gives it broad powers and an expansive mission, and the dedicated funding stream helps ensure its permanence. The politically expedient and successful strategy of folding the independent police monitor ordinance into the OIG establishing legislation to gain passage of the Charter amendment appeared to be a win for all.3 However, the OIG and the independent police monitor originally began as two distinct reform efforts championed by two different councilmembers, each of whom envisioned an autonomous entity, and operational fissures later troubled the marriage of convenience.4
Audio: The Lens interview with Ed Quatrevaux
On the one hand, the Office’s dedicated funding stream and the expansive powers and authority granted the Office by its ordinance ensured its operational independence from executive and legislative branches of government. On the other hand, bargains struck during the drafting of the OIG ordinance to reassure officials worried about unfettered OIG power compromised the Office’s ability to function independently. Unlike federal OIGs, the ordinance constrained the IG with a term of office and designated a volunteer citizen board, the Ethics Review Board, as the appointing authority. In doing so, lawmakers inadvertently provided an external board of political appointees with the ability to influence the Office’s progress and activities, which proved detrimental to the long-term success of the Office.5
The Herculean efforts of my predecessor, Mr. Robert Cerasoli, to establish the OIG enabled the Office to produce seventeen reports and public letters in the first year of my tenure.6 At the same time, the Office continued to grow: I hired additional staff; oversaw the development of office policies and protocols; and began to assess city government to determine the departments, agencies, or functions that presented the highest risk of fraud and abuse and the greatest potential for increased efficiency and effectiveness.
During my tenure, October 2009 through October 2017, the New Orleans Office of Inspector General produced 140 reports and public letters. These work products encouraged marked improvement in the integrity and performance of New Orleans government, contributed greatly to making a new airport possible, compelled culture change at the New Orleans Police Department, and provided technical assistance and best practice expertise to the City on numerous occasions.
Fulfilling the mission
The New Orleans OIG’s mission is to prevent and deter fraud, waste, and abuse, and to promote efficient and effective government. It accomplishes its mission by informing officials and managers of wasteful public spending, activities contrary to law or city regulations, and opportunities to improve government performance. In addition to audits and investigations, the OIG establishing legislation also explicitly cites conducting inspections and evaluations as part of the Office’s purpose. Inspections, evaluations, and performance reviews are intended to identify inefficient and ineffective government programs, policies, and operations. OIG reports inform both city managers and the public of identified problems or “findings” and recommend “remedial actions” designed to rectify these problems.7
The OIG has oversight responsibility for more than 6,500 government employees and over $2 billion in assets, and the breadth of the Office’s responsibilities requires the IG to triage. An Inspector General and his or her staff must determine the size and nature of the problems in its jurisdiction. Government may be dominated by pervasive corruption or poor performance; in 2009, New Orleans municipal government was cursed with both. Twelve years of previous IG experience served me well in an environment where the concepts of ethics and accountability were neither fully understood nor respected.8
IGs must determine where the risk of fraud and waste is highest and vital government functions most compromised. That determination drives resource allocation and a strategic approach to accomplishing the Office’s mission.9 Significant OIG resources should be targeted at those entities or operations with both the highest probability of corruption or poor performance and the most severe resultant consequences. And reviews should continue at those entities until the risks are greatly reduced.
In October 2009 when I took office, Hurricane Katrina federal recovery dollars flowed into the City and then out again through opaque and problematic city procurement processes and contracts to private contractors. Mismanagement of the City’s procurement and contracting processes portended a high probability of wasted public funds, corruption, and poor performance on the part of contractors. The predictable result would be the substantial waste of public monies and a long-term negative impact on the City’s recovery.
Soon after his election to office in 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested technical assistance on procurement best practices from the OIG and, with the Office’s policy recommendations in hand, he began to professionalize the City’s procurement processes. He hired an experienced procurement officer and signed Executive Order MJL 10-05, which established much-improved formal policies and procedures for the procurement of professional services.
The OIG’s dogged focus on city contracts starting in 2009 bore fruit throughout 2010 as the Office released reports uncovering millions of dollars of waste and abuse in city contracts. During this period, contracts with MWH Americas, Inc., Disaster Recovery Consultants, Telecommunications Development Corp., and Sanitation Department contractors, and for the electronic monitoring of defendants and crime surveillance cameras, all came under the OIG microscope.10
In subsequent years the OIG examined a wide range of city departments and activities, including fleet management, Municipal and Traffic Courts, the Department of Public Works, fuel receiving and dispensing, red light cameras, pedestrian crossing signals, the City Council’s regulation of its energy provider, Purchasing and Accounts Payable, and Risk Management. The Office specifically focused on public health and safety agencies and programs, and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) was a recurrent subject of OIG work.
NOPD’s Remarkable Turnaround
New Orleans criminal justice agencies, which received the largest portion of the City’s General Fund, performed poorly by most metrics. The NOPD topped that list, receiving far and away the largest portion of general fund criminal justice monies.11 The OIG produced a total of twenty-five reports and public letters on the NOPD from 2010 through my departure in 2017, and the persistent OIG spotlight on the Department contributed to an improved culture of policing at the NOPD.12
The OIG’s examination of NOPD sex crimes cases exemplifies the positive impact the Office had on the Department. Auditors tested sex crimes cases from mid-2010 through mid-2013 and found that NOPD officers misclassified 46 percent of the offenses auditors tested, reclassifying them to a lesser offense than rape, and the majority of misclassified cases were recorded as “miscellaneous” or “unfounded.” In addition, NOPD incident records provided no supporting documentation or additional investigative efforts beyond the initial report in 65 percent of sex crime cases reviewed, and officers failed to submit evidence to Central Evidence and Property. A joint press conference at NOPD headquarters detailed the results of the audit and the consequent OIG investigation of five NOPD sex crimes officers.13
The OIG audit and investigation produced swift action by the NOPD, resulting in a complete turnaround in NOPD’s handling of sex crimes cases. NOPD reorganized the Special Victims Section, and an OIG follow-up audit of October through December 2015 case files documented a 184 percent increase in the number of rapes reported to the FBI. Moreover, officers had not misclassified any reported rapes and included supporting documentation in all of the case files examined. Officers also properly classified all but one of the 154 sex-crime related calls for service according to Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines. A second joint press conference at OIG offices lauded the NOPD’s positive, decisive response to OIG findings.14
NOPD did not initially embrace all OIG suggestions, however. On receipt of an OIG report on NOPD staffing and deployment, the Department initially rebuffed best practice recommendations intended to reduce the demand for and increase the supply of officers available to respond to calls for service. Nonetheless, over the following two years, the NOPD implemented the majority of the report’s recommendations: the Department transferred 94 officers from administrative duties to patrol; hired civilians for positions that did not require law enforcement training; and requested legislative changes to reduce the number of responses to false burglar alarms, freeing officers to respond to more emergent calls.[enf_note] See also: “NOPD Staffing and Deployment,” Video Production of the New Orleans Office of Inspector General, June 9, 2014; Jim Mustian, “IG Report takes issue with NOPD staffing claims: Quatrevaux wants force to better allocate manpower,” The Advocate, May 31, 2014; “2014 Annual Report,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, January 7, 2015; Matt Sledge, “New Orleans Police Department wants to improve response times by answering fewer false alarms,” The Advocate, May 14, 2015; Jonathan Bullington, “Higher fines for false alarms approved by New Orleans City Council,” NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune; Jonathan Bullington, “Aiming to speed response times, NOPD shifting 94 officers to answer service calls,” January 13, 2016, NOLA.com/The Times Picayune; and Fritz Esker, “NOPD unveils plan to put more officers on the streets,” January 19, 2016, The Louisiana Weekly.[/enf_note]
The improvements in government programs and operations described above demonstrate that government performance can be greatly improved. The continued focus on the NOPD and government contracting practices and procedures also demonstrates that repeated scrutiny of one department or city function establishes an OIG presence and creates the expectation of oversight among employees and managers.
The OIG also promoted honest, effective government by providing technical assistance. For example, the Office produced a Model Board Manual and a handbook on Model Administrative Procedures for Boards, Commissions, and Public Benefit Corporations, and it provided expert consultation in the development of a crime victim perception survey at the request of the NOPD Superintendent.
Convincing officials and managers comfortable with the status quo to change their practices does not happen easily. But impressive results can be achieved when diligent oversight combines with confident government leaders who welcome the assistance provided by a tenacious OIG. When managers and officials embrace the OIG as a full partner in improving operations and reducing wasteful spending, remarkable improvements are possible. The OIG’s role at the New Orleans airport was just such a miracle of opportunity.
In mid-2010 a seasoned professional, Mr. Iftikhar Ahmad, took the helm of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as the Director of Aviation. I met with him about six months after he arrived and he told me that his challenge was to reduce costs, that the airport industry expense average was much lower than in New Orleans. “With the difference,” he said, “I could build a new airport.”
I asked him how I could help. He said there were many contracts that appeared to be expired even though the airport continued to receive and pay invoices for them. I sent the OIG Audit Chief to meet with the Aviation Director the next day. Three auditors soon began reviewing more than 100 expired contracts operating on a month-to-month basis and provided their observations on each to the Aviation Director.
Several months later, one of my senior managers informed me that the Aviation Director had advised the New Orleans Aviation Board that he planned to re-bid these airport contracts. I asked to address the Aviation Board at its next public meeting, and my message pulled no punches: After chastising the governing body as a “pit of corruption,” I put the Board on notice that the OIG was going to shine a bright light on the Aviation Board and examine every major financial transaction in a continuous audit. I told them I had asked the Aviation Director to inform me if anyone attempted to influence his actions outside of a public meeting of the Aviation Board.
I advised the City’s Chief Administrative Officer of my speech to the Aviation Board and told him that we were moving OIG staff on site at the airport. I recall that he thanked me for the information and pledged cooperation. Subsequently, the Mayor appointed leaders of the business community, vocal critics of airport service, to the Board.
In October 2013 the OIG issued an audit report on ten month-to-month contracts drawn from auditors’ initial review. It identified payments on invoices made without proper documentation and labor rates different from those specified in the contract. Most important, the audit also revealed that airport managers had cancelled more than 100 month-to-month contracts as a result of the initial review, saving the airport $25 million.
The OIG also investigated allegations regarding the airport Ground Transportation Manager and found that he permitted taxis to enter the airport without the required decals and background checks, depriving the airport of $325,000 in revenue over three years and compromising airport security. The Ground Transportation Manager was found in violation of airport policy and was dismissed. An investigation of the landscape contractor resulted in his conviction on federal bank fraud charges, and a reduction in landscaping costs of several hundred thousand dollars annually. Last, a follow-up report on airport credit card use and expense reimbursements revealed an 87 percent reduction in credit card expenses over a six-month period, from $134,000 to $17,784. The savings the OIG uncovered and the Director of Aviation’s quick actions to curtail them undoubtedly saved the airport millions of dollars in future economic losses.
Airlines operate on razor thin margins and schedule flights based on passenger demand and the fees airports charge them. Prior to the efforts of the Aviation Director and the OIG to identify and eliminate wasteful spending, the cost per passenger at the New Orleans airport was projected to exceed $16 by 2014, which would have made it the most expensive airport in the country for the airlines.15
The new Director of Aviation’s commitment to ethical professionalism and his willingness to work cooperatively with the OIG to uncover waste played a crucial role in reducing the cost per passenger to $8 by 2014, below the median for all airports, and by 2015 the cost per passenger fell to $6.92. These price reductions fueled a rapid expansion in airline carriers and flights, including nonstop and international flights. Under his skillful management, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport became one of the fastest growing airports in the country, instead of the most expensive airport in the country, contributing directly to New Orleans’s recent boom in tourism.
The increased confidence in the airport’s sound business practices and millions of dollars in cost reductions made possible the building of a new airport terminal. Construction of a new airport terminal requires large sums of money, hundreds of contracts, and streams of invoices, creating opportunities for corruption and fraud. To ensure an impeccable construction process, the Director of Aviation invited the OIG to provide oversight of the new terminal’s construction and funded an embedded OIG Construction Fraud Division (CFD) at the airport. The CFD promoted fraud prevention training; monitored adherence to a Code of Ethics and Conduct Agreement; and reviewed airport contracts, invoices, policies, and procedures.
I wrote to the Senior Director of Fitch Ratings, a bond rating agency, in February 2015 to inform the agency of the OIG’s unique relationship with the Aviation Director and the New Orleans Aviation Board. I enumerated the progress that had been made in improving the airport’s business practices and assured the Senior Director that the OIG was committed to maintaining staff and providing oversight at the airport until the new terminal project was complete. I was told that the letter helped to secure lower interest rates on the bonds sold to fund the new terminal’s construction.
The new airport terminal, made possible in large part by eliminated corruption, is scheduled to open in the Fall of 2019. This great achievement was possible because of the airport management’s commitment to accountability and sound business practices, its observance of ethical standards, and its close cooperation with the OIG.
Ed Quatrevaux served as the New Orleans Inspector General from 2009-2017.
The opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens Founder Karen Gadbois.
- Federal IGs’ independence is assured by the separation of their legislative funding source, Congress, from the executive branch agencies and departments over which they have oversight authority. Federal IGs are as old as the U.S. George Washington appointed the first Inspector General of the U.S. Army in 1777 during the Revolutionary War; in the 1940s the U.S. Navy and Air Force established OIGs. In 1973 a scandal in the U.S. Department of Agriculture prompted Senator John Glenn to push for the first IG of an executive branch department. Its success led Congress to pass the Inspector General Act of 1978, requiring IGs for every cabinet department. The Act’s amendment in 1988 added OIGs for numerous smaller agencies. There are currently 73 federal OIGs, including special IGs whose jurisdiction is limited to specific projects or issues. Inspector General Act of 1978, Public Law, 5 U.S.C. § 95-452 et seq. (as amended October 5, 2018), accessed June 12, 2019. In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines “government programs, facilities, and policies” to determine whether they are functioning efficiently and effectively and tax dollars are spent wisely. The GAO makes recommendations to Congress or Executive branch agencies based on its findings. “About GAO‒Overview,” Government Accountability Office, accessed June 8, 2019.
- The amended language of the New Orleans City Charter, Sec. 9-401(3) stated that “[t]he OIG, in conjunction with the Ethics Review Board, shall receive an annual appropriation from the Council in an amount not less than .75% (three-quarters of one percent) of the general fund operating budget … .” It further stipulated that the appropriation could not be diminished except in “cases of natural disaster or other extreme circumstances.” Paragraph two (2) added the independent police monitor: “The OIG shall also provide for an Independent Police Monitor Division, charged with monitoring the operations of the New Orleans Police Department.” New Orleans Municipal Code of Ordinances. M.C.S. 23146 (June 5, 2008). The amended ordinance added a new Section 2-1121 to the existing OIG ordinance, including the language of the original ordinance to establish the independent police monitor as a separate entity. See, Nadiene Van Dyke, Jon Wool, and Luceia LeDoux, “Criminal Justice Reforms,” in Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, eds. Amy Liu, Roland V. Anglin, Richard M. Mizelle Jr., and Allison Plyer (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2011), 70‒72.
- “Strategically pairing a charter amendment guaranteeing permanent IG funding with the independent police monitor ordinance aligned proponents from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, giving both initiatives a broad base of support.” Van Dyke, Wool, and LeDoux, “Criminal Justice Reforms,” in Resilience and Opportunity, 72.
- The division of the independent police monitor differed from the other OIG divisions in a few significant ways. For example, unlike the selection of other OIG division heads, the IG was required to select the independent police monitor from three candidates chosen by a committee. Moreover, although the other heads of OIG divisions served at the IG’s will, the IG could only terminate the independent police monitor’s employment with the approval of the Ethics Review Board, nullifying the IG’s supervisory authority over the independent police monitor and undermining the IG’s command of the Office as a whole.
- New Orleans Municipal Code of Ordinances, Art. XIII, Sec.2-1120(3)(a), accessed June 29, 2019. The OIG ordinance stipulated that an entity of citizen volunteers, the Ethics Review Board, hire (or reappoint) the IG every four years. Federal IGs have no term of service, and the United States Comptroller General serves a term of 15 years. Inspector General Act of 1978, Public Law, 5 U.S.C. § 95-452 et seq., Sec. 3 (a) and (b) (as amended October 5, 2018), accessed June 12, 2019; and “About GAO: Comptroller General,” Government Accountability Office, accessed June 13, 2019.
- The OIG produced six reports and public letters prior to the start of my tenure in late 2009. See “Reports and Letters,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, accessed June 8, 2019.
- New Orleans Municipal Code of Ordinances, Art. XIII, Sec.2-1120(8)(d) and (10) through (15), accessed May 24, 2019. “Problems” that may warrant OIG findings include, but are not limited to, non-compliance with city policies, protocols, and regulations; violations of law; and deficient or nonexistent policies and protocols.
- I came to the New Orleans OIG with twelve years of both civilian and military IG experience. From 1990 through 2000 I served as IG for the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded not-for-profit agency that provided grant funding to legal services providers serving low-income individuals, and I served as IG for the Department of Defense transportation management command from 1985 through 1987.
- It is more difficult to interest entities and government in improving performance when substantial fraud is present. In those cases, an early focus on fraud at the expense of efficiency and effectiveness makes sense. The reverse is true when fraud is minimal compared to performance issues. However, there are times when both types of problems are present in abundance, which calls for relatively equal resource allocations.
- “Review of Professional Services Contract with MWH Americas, Inc. for Infrastructure Project Management,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, April 21, 2010; “Letter to Mayor Nagin Re: Municipal Auditorium Contract and Letter to the City Council Re: Municipal Auditorium Contract,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, December 28 and 29, 2009; “Review of Professional Services Contract with Disaster Recovery Consultants (DRC) for Public Assistance,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, July 30, 2010; “City of New Orleans Contract with Telecommunications Development Corp., New Orleans Office of Inspector General,” August 30, 2010; “Letter to Mayor Nagin Re: Electronic Monitoring of Pretrial Defendants,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General , March 23, 2010; “Department of Sanitation Contract Oversight,”New Orleans Office of Inspector General, March 17, 2010; “Citizen Verification Project: Sanitation Property Survey,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General, October 28, 2010. All reports can be accessed at “Reports and Public Letters,” New Orleans Office of Inspector General.
- The NOPD received more than $109 million from the General Fund in 2010 and 2011, significantly more than any other city department. “Public safety” received 58 percent of the General Fund in 2011. “2011 Annual Operating Budget,” City of New Orleans,34 and 42, accessed June, 13, 2019. The 2010 budget for the NOPD is not available on line but is referenced in the 2011 budget book. In 2011 the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report of its investigation into the NOPD, which found “a number of patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct” and detailed “concerns about a number of NOPD policies and practices.” In January, 2013 the City of New Orleans entered into a cooperative Agreement (Consent Decree) with the DOJ in which the NOPD assented to “fundamentally change the way it polices throughout the New Orleans community.” United States of America vs The City of New Orleans. Civil Action No. 12-CV-01924, E.D. La.,October 2, 2018. An OIG evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Municipal and Traffic Courts released in 2011 found massive waste and mismanaged funds. “Assessment of City Courts and Review of Traffic Court,” City of New Orleans Office of Inspector General, November 17, 2011.
- For OIG reports and letters with the NOPD as their subject, search NOPD at http://www.nolaoig.gov/reports.
- See also: John Simerman, “IG report slams work of 5 NOPD sex-crimes detectives,” theadvocate.com/new-orleans, The Advocate, November 15, 2014; Campbell Robertson, “New Orleans Police Routinely Ignored Sex Crimes, Report Finds,” The New York Times, November 13, 2014. Mark Berman, “New Orleans police ignored hundreds of reported sex crimes, report says,” The Washington Post, November 13, 2014; John Simerman, “Mayor pledges overhaul of NOPD sex crimes unit in wake of blistering report,” The Advocate, November 22, 2014; and The Times Picayune Editorial Board, “Inspector general can help keep NOPD on track: Editorial,” NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, September 9, 2015.
- See also: Jonathan Bullington, “NOPD sex crimes unit shows ‘remarkable turnaround,’ inspector general says,” NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, June 22, 2016; Matt Sledge and John Simerman, “NOPD makes progress in handling of rape cases since 2014 probe, new IG report finds,” The Advocate, June 22, 2016; and The Times Picayune Editorial Board, “NOPD sex crimes unit goes from awful to ‘very good’ in two years: Editorial,” NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune June 24, 2016. The NOPD consent decree monitors credited the OIG report with prompting improvements in the Special Victims Crime unit. See, for example, “Report of the Consent Decree Monitor For the New Orleans Police Department Consent Decree,” Office of the Consent Decree Monitor, New Orleans, Louisiana, October 2, 2015, 54-55.
- The New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport Director of Aviation provided information on costs and projected cost per passenger to the OIG.