By Taylor-Jo Russo, Staff Writer
On Friday, Feb. 15, Director of the Strategy Management Office at the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of the Interior, Christina Bruner gave a lecture on “Government Watchdogs and Why They Matter to Democracy,” as part of the first installment in the Eisenhower Institute’s Women and Leadership program lecture series.
Dr. Bruner, a Gettysburg College alumnus, detailed the tasks and purpose of the Inspector General’s (IG) Office and why she believes it is crucial to democracy. Bruner started off explaining the relationship between ‘honesty,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘trust.’ Honest being the values, integrity being the behavior, and trust being the outcome. This very model that the government uses, as she pointed out, can be seen in our college Honor Code. The purpose of IG’s is to provide oversight to violations of the “honor code” of the government: that being the Constitution. She put it best that IG’s are similar to the Honor Commission here at the college, enforcing integrity and honor, all in all promoting trust.
Bruner then detailed the specifics of what the IG’s oversee which is money and behavior. More specifically, how the government employees are using the money, meaning that it is being used for its intentions and not wasted, fraud, etc. Behavior is watched to make sure there are no abuses of power, advantages taken, or any other behavioral misconduct. However, Bruner made sure to clarify that the information and violations simply get passed up to the Department of Justice (DoJ), meaning they have no say in the punishment or consequence.
To make sense of this, Bruner provided examples of violations found and the process after the discovery. In 2016, the Grand Canyon’s river district went under fire after allegations of sexual hostility and harassment were found. The IG’s investigated the allegations through interviews, report detailing, and more. They found the information to be correct and after passing it up to the DoJ, the river district was abolished. Bruner believes it is important to enforce the Constitution and promote trust simply because of the reputational damage that ensues and the negative impact on the community around violators.
Dr. Bruner was asked about the frustrations behind her job, her response was when the “tops” feel that they can re-write the laws just because they are in charge of making them. However, she finds her duties and office to be rather stable, even throughout changing administrations. The IG’s consistently consider areas of improvement, for example when they were called out for their minimal information release. A newspaper article was titled, “Investigated a lot, shares little.” They later changed their processes and started releasing more, adhering to criticism and becoming more transparent; a quality she admires about her agency.
Overall, Bruner believes that the IG’s Office is beneficial in not just finding violations, but building trust, better community, and preventing further mistrust. Furthermore, she discussed the mentalities behind cheating through a TED talk, showing the in-group versus out-group difference on cheating behavior. The research showed that more cheating will arise after witnessing successful cheating behavior from a member of an in-group. Bruner further made the connection that IG’s set the tone to stop a chain of “cheating” or violations and for the credibility of the government.