Why "Internal Affairs" is Important in Federal Agencies

By on November 15, 2012 in Current Events with 7 Comments

“Internal affairs” is not a reference to personal relationships between people in federal agencies. The term does refer to the investigators in agencies with a job of working to eliminate problems of waste, fraud abuse or other corrupt practices.

Popular TV shows portray the internal affairs organization of police or law enforcement  as an unpopular adjunct to an organization. The people are often seen as being outside the culture of the organization and may be the target of ridicule or abuse. There apparently is some truth to the popular stereotype, even in federal agencies. The topic is not one that gets much publicity and many readers probably prefer to ignore the topic and hope they are never the target of an internal investigation.

A retired federal employee who worked in the field for a number of years has now written a book on this function and offers advice and opinions that some in the internal affairs community will find controversial.

The author of Inside Internal Affairs writes: “People who had nothing to fear feared me or at least did not want to be around me. Once when I walked into a bustling lunchroom, conversation stopped and all heads went down…Such is life in the public sector for an internal affairs investigator.” He also noted that any organization needs an employee investigations section to protect the public, employees and the people within an agency. “To a large degree, the public image of the agency is determined by the quality of the internal affairs function in responding to allegations of misconduct by the agency or its employees.”

The book was written out of frustration, says the author, “because of the attitudes I encountered when I was involved in internal investigations….”

The frustration comes through in the description of how decisions are sometimes made in agencies. Author John F. Hein worked for the U.S. Customs Service for a number of years. A joke within the organization was that the agency had “over 200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” The agency also had a “good old boy” network that was alive and well. He describes the culture as one of “playing hard, fast and loose with few rules.” He also describes the agency as a “great place to work” and one in which there were sophisticated investigations conducted with considerable success. Based on recent events in another law enforcement agency, the U.S. Secret Service, one may assume that type of culture is not one that is unique to Customs.

He also observed that the Customs Service leadership lacked a “command presence” that respected the Internal Affairs function and that this led to “resistance, dislike and an expression of disapproval” for the function within the agency. One of the main points in the book is that “command presence” is “key to the many situations faced in the law enforcement profession…A positive or negative command presence by members of the internal affairs process can affect an officer’s attitude….”

Inside Internal Affairs is not written for a casual observer of the internal affairs function but for managers and those who are part of the internal affairs process. It describes, for example,  how those within the system have an influence on the internal affairs function of investigating employee wrongdoing. The internal affairs function is an arm of management that is sometimes used for self serving purposes rather than as a tool to protect an organization and everyone in it.

An employee who may be part of an investigation will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable.  For employees who may be investigated under this process,  the author offers the view of an insider who is confident that in most organizations there are internal affairs investigators who are caring and want to not only do what is best for the agency but also what is best for the employee.

No one wants to be investigated, but it is inevitable that when allegations are made an investigation will be conducted. An employer has the obligation to ensure ethical conduct by its employees. Of course, an allegation is only an accusation. Although many employees might believe internal affairs is out to get them, there are investigators who only want to undercover the truth to either prosecute the guilty or protect the innocent.

The book is thoroughly researched and replete with footnotes and additional resources, and those working in the profession or with some responsibility for an internal affairs organization will find it enlightening. It describes the function from top to bottom and how various forms of corruption can become a problem in an organization and how to recognize corruption before it becomes a dominant theme in an organization. It also discusses the role of unions, the role of senior management and how individuals within an organization may see their role and how they interact with internal agency investigators and summarizes numerous court decisions that can be significant to law enforcement. Each chapter also contains “Case Study Questions” and “suggested reading” material for those who may want more information. A compact disk, which includes test questions and an instructor’s guide, is also available to assist in the presentation of the subject matter.

The book is available for sale online.

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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  1. Elmalo96 says:

    You damn right IA/OIG is an arm of management that is ‘always’ used  for self serving purposes.  Making an allegation or a  complaint against an employee, and it  is immediately investigated.  Make a complaint against a manager – ha – even with direct evidence – and see if the complaint is even opened, let alone investigated.  Are you kidding me?  If you are not ‘liked’ or one of the ‘good old boys’ no matter how your work ethic, case load and contributions to the agency are, you will be shunned by management. And then every time you fart, another investigation into ‘alleged wrongdoing.’    Make an allegation against management, have it stick, management gits a ‘talkin to’ and then holy hell retribution and retaliation starts immediately.  Yup,  I’m disgruntled over it, worked hard, did an excellent job with numerous awards, but retired early because of  harassment. Our government is the worst violators of it’s own rules, policies, regulations and laws.          

  2. Djsmith says:

    Internal Affairs, Inspector General, they are all the same.  Nothing more than an arm of management.  In a career of more than 27 years I saw management use it way too many times to silence employees.  More times than not, those working in IA/IG are friends of the bosses.

  3. LongTimeFed says:

    At my agency, my boss illegally hired a political appointee as a career fed. When asked about it by internal affairs, my boss just lied about it, and nothing was done. No good having an IG or internal affairs office if they’re so useless as that.

  4. Japygid says:

    Non-Federal law enforcement agencies frequently have employees who investigate possible wrongdoing by other employees in the organization – this is called the “internal affairs” function.  Feds do it differently.

    Federal agencies (not just law enforcement) have an inspector general (IG) for this purpose.  The IG investigates charges of internal wrongdoing within  the agency.  This being the case, where did the author of the book get the “internal affairs” label?  Nowhere in the article about his book did I see any mention of the IG.  Was his agency so backward it did know of, let alone have, an inspector general function?

    To make matters worse, most agencies also have an internal audit function, whereby they audit themselves.  They audit themselves.   Think about it.

    • 9666 says:

       I’ve read the book. The author details the different labels for the various organizations that are the subject of the book – including the IG function in federal agencies.

      I found the book to be exhaustively researched – including footnotes, a provocative and an insightful look at the “real world” issues -warts and all – that  agencies, at all levels, must face for the IA/IG function to be relevant and effective.

      The book seems to be intended for use as a text in a criminal justice educational program, but it offers a uniquely in depth look  – from the inside – at world of the IA professional.

  5. sandiegoret says:

    The book sounds interesting and about an important subject that federal employees and managers should think about.  The one thing not mentioned in the review (and my guess, not in the book) is that many of the “rules of conduct” that federal employees labor under are arbitrary and sometimes stupid.  These rules often get in the way of getting the job done.  Of course the best solution of for employees to identify these rules and keep pressure on the agency to make them more relevant and job-helpful.  This is something that federal unions could be a big help with but don’t usually do more than defend employees accused of violating the rules.  This is also something that HR and General Counsel should also be constantly aware of an help refine the rules.  

    So, the problem between Internal Affairs usually comes when an employee does something to accomplish the job and is then investigated for violating an ethical rule.  The employee feels s/he did nothing wrong and is naturally combative about the investigation.  Often the investigators or unnecessarily arrogant and treat the employee as a criminal–that police mentality isn’t helpful in gathering information or getting cooperation.  On the other hand, if the investigations are seen as fair and for the good of everyone then there wouldn’t be a conspiracy of silence from the employees.

    Everyone needs to work on this constantly.

    • formerIRS says:

      I was an IRS employee for 33 years and I am fully familiar with the tactics of Internal Affairs ( called imspection, or TIGTA in our agency). Their mission is not one of impartial fact finding, but rather a “gotcha” approach. First of all, by the time they “interview” the employee they have already done a full 3rd party investigation and have dug up all the dirt (and maybe manufactured some). They sit around you on 3 sides each firing questions at you, giving you little or no time to answer, thereby attempting to get you to say something incriminatory, with no chance to think of your answer. The questions are also framed so that anything you say is mainly incriminatory. Also, they are fully authorized to, and are expected to, lie in order to accomplish their objectives. If you are represented by a union, you generally have the right to a union steward with you at the “interview”. If you are not represented by a union, the “too bad”.