If an agent from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) wants to meet with you, don’t panic, even though you want to. Instead, agree to meet with the officer at a later date. In the meantime, consult at once with an experienced OIG investigation attorney for guidance going forward.
Many federal lawyers offer no-cost consultations. Try to get an in-person consult if possible. It will help you assess whether the lawyer is someone you can work with should your situation escalate. That being said, here’s what the OIG does and what that means for you.
What Is the OIG?
The Office of the Inspector General was established by the Inspector General Act of 1978. This federal agency reports to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is tasked with the following actions:
- Perform independent investigations of DHS programs and operations
- Promote the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of DHS programs
- Identify and counteract departmental fraud, abuse and waste
- Provide ongoing counsel to Congress and the DHS Secretary about DHS program deficiencies that require corrective measures.
Who Are OIG Investigators?
As an independent oversight entity, OIG investigations are conducted by federal criminal investigators who are otherwise known as special agents. Their law enforcement powers are granted by the U.S. Attorney General (AG).
Agents can carry firearms and obtain and execute search and arrest warrants. Under certain conditions, they can make an arrest without a warrant.
The OIG is an independent entity distinct from other law enforcement agencies. It is situated in Washington, DC, and has field locations in Miami, New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.
What Happens If I Am Contacted by a Special Agent?
The OIG investigates criminal, civil and administrative matters. If you are contacted, the agent will tell you what they want to talk to you about and why. Based on what you are told, you can better decide what to do.
If you believe yourself to be in the clear with nothing to share that could incriminate you, you might be tempted to just jump in and have a go. After all, declining the invitation might make you appear suspect to the investigators.
Your lawyer might see it differently. The first step in any kind of official investigation should always be to discuss the matter with an attorney before sitting down with an OIG special agent.
You don’t have to answer every question. However, OIG agents have extensive training and considerable experience extracting information from reluctant witnesses. If you try to match wits with the agent, the odds are that you will lose.
The best way to survive an OIG investigation is to have your lawyer present whenever you are questioned. Additionally, do not discuss the investigation with anyone else, especially fellow employees.
OIG agents are not always out to get you. Sometimes they are seeking information about crimes you’re not involved in but may have important information about. After all, without witness testimony, prosecutors can be greatly hindered in their efforts to get a criminal conviction.
Nevertheless, it’s always safer to have your lawyer present. You might be thoroughly innocent of any wrongdoing, but you can still unintentionally incriminate yourself. It’s easy to do when you’re anxious and stressed out.
Whatever you do, don’t lie to an OIG special agent. It’s not in your best interest, it can easily incriminate you and you might land in jail. Declining to answer a question is not a crime, but lying to an agent is.
Under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, the penalty for making false statements to a law enforcement officer is a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
How Does an OIG Investigation Work?
The OIG investigates allegations, complaints and information related to the violation of laws, regulations and policies.
Investigations are conducted by special agents who are highly trained and credentialed criminal investigators as well as federal law enforcement officers.
The findings of these investigations can be used for administrative action by the department and its bureaus. The information can also be used in criminal and civil actions conduced by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
How long it takes the OIG to conclude an investigation depends on the particulars of each case. Generally speaking, the OIG will issue a final report within one year following the initiation date.
Must Employees Cooperate With Special Agents?
Employees must fully cooperate with all OIG investigations. That includes responding in a forthright and candid manner during interviews. You must submit any relevant material in your possession, and you must deliver that material in a timely manner.
The Inspector General Act granted the OIG access to all information and evidence related to an inquiry. Employees must truthfully respond to all questions and should not appear to be withholding information that’s potentially relevant to the investigation.
What Are My Rights?
Under the Fifth Amendment, you have the right to refuse to provide any information or evidence that could be used against you in a court of law.