Although it has been engulfed in turmoil for the past year, the New Orleans Office of Inspector General complies with national best practices, despite having one of the heaviest workloads in the country among local watchdog agencies, according to a recent peer review.
The Association of Inspectors General, a national membership organization for such agencies, also praised the New Orleans office's staffers for their experience and relationships with local law enforcement agencies and the Ethics Review Board.
The national group reviews the local inspector general's office every three years, in accordance with a city law and national standards.
The local office is also supposed to receive a quality assurance review annually from a committee of local citizens, though those reviews occur infrequently.
"We would like to commend the New Orleans Office of Inspector General on staying mission-focused and remaining steadfast in its duties," Flora Tran, the head of the review team, wrote in a July 16 letter.
"The sheer size of the governmental operations that your office oversees, and your office’s jurisdiction and responsibility, are unparalleled by any other local government inspector's general office."
Her boss, Hector Collazo, clarified Monday that the review team intended to note that the relatively small local Inspector General's Office has a lot on its plate, not necessarily that other similar agencies don't.
The largely positive report did identify some relatively minor problems, such as the need for more promotions within the office and for changes to reporting methods within specific divisions.
But the results generally paint a glowing picture of an office that has been uncharacteristically quiet over the past year, after it was thrust into turmoil when its previous leader warred with a potential successor.
Last year, for example, the office issued only three reports, compared to the 15 it issued in 2016. And for the first time in nine years, the office cost taxpayers more to operate last year than, by its own reckoning, it saved them by identifying fraud, waste and abuse in city government.
So far this year, it has issued just two reports.
Its 2017 operating budget was $3.9 million, but it identified only $2.2 million that year in improper spending, according to its annual report.
At the time, former Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux was publicly fighting to keep a job he eventually left, but not before he feuded with his assistant inspector general for investigations, Howard Schwartz, over a report Schwartz authored that accused a colleague of patronage and bias.
Quatrevaux claimed Schwartz had set out to defame Nadiene Van Dyke because they were rivals for the office's top job when Quatrevaux's term was up, while Schwartz said Quatrevaux had instructed him to investigate Van Dyke in the first place.
Schwartz did apply for Quatrevaux’s job but lost to Derry Harper, the former Nashville, Tennessee, assistant district attorney general who has led the office since February. Schwartz resigned abruptly this month, offering no word on what he will do next.
Though the infighting tarnished the local office’s credibility and apparently severely affected its productivity, the recent review — which included an on-site visit in early June of this year — appeared more concerned with the office’s relationships with local law enforcement and whether its investigations and internal structure adhered to national guidelines.
The local office is in line with national standards set by the national association and by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Tran wrote.
The Office of Inspector General's staff “overwhelmingly exceeded the minimum training requirements,” Tran wrote.
Moreover, when Tran’s review team spoke with officials at the New Orleans Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the city ethics board, which governs the local inspector general, all three entities gave the Office of Inspector General high praise, she said.
But the office should consider giving more pay raises or promotions to its staffers, Tran said. Also, she said, its Inspections and Evaluations Division should check in more frequently with city departments in which it has identified problems, to ensure that officials are correcting those problems.
In response, Harper told Tran that the office would implement her suggestions for the inspections division, among other recommendations.