The First Inspector General
In 1668 Louis XIV, King of France, invented the office of Inspector General to oversee his infantry and cavalry. He later created inspectors general for geographic regions.
Inspectors general were relieved of all duties except the duty to inspect the army and other government facilities. They reported to the King directly, and to no one else. However, they had no directive authority; that is, they could not order anyone to do, or not do, anything.
Those three attributes remained the basis of inspectors general throughout history: (1) no duty but to inspect; (2) no directive authority; and, (3) reporting only to the leader.
Inspectors General in the United States Armed Services
The Prussian Army adopted the French example and then it spread to other European armies. In December 1777, the Continental Congress approved an Inspector General for the Revolutionary Army.
Frederick von Steuben, a Prussian officer, inspected army units and reported to General Washington on the condition of the units, their training, and the competency of their officers. He also inspected contractors' invoices and deliveries, reporting when the Army was overbilled or received inferior goods. Many historians believe that von Steuben made a significant contribution, and that the appointment of an inspector general was essential to American victory.
The U.S. Army has maintained an inspector general system ever since. In 1942 the Navy created the Naval Inspector General, and an inspector general has been part of the U.S. Air Force since its creation in 1948.
Federal Civilian Offices of Inspector General
Scandals with government soybean subsidies led to the creation of the first civilian office of inspector general at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1973. Individual audit and investigative offices within the department merged, centralizing the department's oversight functions within the inspector general's office.
This experiment was successful and offices of inspector general were created at all U.S. cabinet departments by the Inspector General Act of 1978. Their mission was to prevent and detect fraud, and to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the programs and operations of their departments.
The 1988 amendments to the Inspector General Act created offices of inspector general at thirty smaller agencies such as the CIA, Federal Reserve Bank, and the Securities Exchange Commission.
Inspector general offices proliferated due to their success. Like their predecessors, they fought fraud and conducted investigations that led to convictions. The Cabinet Secretaries and Congress believed that they were receiving objective and impartial information about government programs and problems for the first time.
Offices of Inspector General in State and Local Government
Massachusetts established an Office of Inspector General in 1981, and various other states followed. Cities also adopted the concept, as did disparate quasi-governmental organizations such as the Florida Lottery Commission.
Today there are approximately 200 public offices dedicated to government accountability and oversight. The Association of Inspectors General (AIG), with 10 chapters nationwide, maintains principles and standards that "establish criteria for creating and administering inspector general offices consistent with best practices within the inspector general profession." The New Orleans Office of Inspector General undergoes an AIG peer review every three years to ensure that it continues to operate according to AIG principles and standards.
The New Orleans Office of Inspector General has the same mission as the 60 or so federal OIGs: to prevent and detect fraud and abuse and to promote efficiency and effectiveness in City operations.