Robert “Rob” Storch, NSA’s new Inspector General, noticed it immediately: there were two almost identical wall displays in his office, the only difference being that the one for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) had the OIG’s name circling the American eagle on the Agency’s official emblem.
Four months later, the OIG’s logo now features the image of an owl – associated for centuries with watchfulness and wisdom, key traits for an OIG – as well as the office’s core values: oversight, integrity, independence, and transparency. The owl holds in its talons a lightning key, representing the Agency’s combined signals intelligence and cybersecurity missions.
“Symbols matter. They convey meaning,” he said. And as the Agency’s first Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed (“PAS”) Inspector General, Storch wants to clearly communicate the role of his office in advancing the Agency’s mission through independent oversight.
Prior to a Congressional change in 2014, NSA Directors appointed their IGs and could remove them. In 2014, Congress called for PAS appointments instead for both NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office.
A Senate committee report at the time said, “…this provision will ensure the NSA Inspector General operates independently of the Director of the Agency in overseeing the activities of the NSA, particularly with respect to activities that may raise privacy concerns….”
AIMING FOR IMPACT
As Storch has emphasized in conversations with leaders throughout the Agency, OIG will work hard to be as transparent as possible – with plans to publish unclassified material about its work and to expand its public website with much more information about the OIG’s oversight efforts, for example. He has emphasized the importance of being “impactful” by not only identifying non-compliance, but also getting to the root problems of issues and recommending ways in which the Agency can do things better.
The ultimate goal, he says, is to advance the Agency’s lawful mission by helping it find methods to conduct operations more economically, more efficiently, and more effectively – in short, to encourage NSA to continuously improve.
LIFT EVERY VOICE
The workforce is an essential factor in OIG’s equation. OIG works independently to conduct objective audits, investigations, inspections, and special studies of NSA’s activities. It focuses on detecting and deterring waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct. It also assesses whether NSA’s activities comply with the law and are consistent with civil rights and civil liberties.
“People perform an important service to the Agency and the public when they come forward when they see something they reasonably believe is wrong. And we can’t do comprehensive, effective oversight if people don’t come forward,” Storch said. “Reprisal is wrong, it’s illegal, and people won’t come forward with their concerns if they fear they’ll suffer for doing so. To OIG, each and every employee’s voice is important.”
One of his first moves as the new IG was to create the position of OIG Whistleblower Coordinator, a key point of contact for information about employees’ rights and protections. That complements the new Whistleblower Protection page on OIG’s internal website. The office is also looking into other ways to get out information to employees about their important rights and protections.
LEVERAGING THE BROADER OIG COMMUNITY
Storch, the sixth of seven children from a family of high achievers, understands the power of teamwork.
After a long career working with law enforcement agents as a federal prosecutor, he served as the U.S. Justice Department’s Deputy Inspector General, and as its very first Whistleblower Ombudsperson, helping to establish and direct a program regarded as a leader in the field. He also organized and chaired the OIG community-wide Whistleblower Ombudsmen Working Group.
“We are exploring new avenues to get the word out about our work,” he said.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE, pronounced sig-gee) will be one route. Congress created this independent entity to coordinate activities among OIGs across the federal community.
Storch will also continue to seek relevant public engagements to raise awareness. Next week he’ll speak on a panel at an event sponsored by the bipartisan House Whistleblower Protection Caucus.
In a recent meeting, he noted that it was NSA’s critical work that led him to join the Agency after serving at the Justice Department for nearly three decades. He’s here, he said, because he believes in the importance of the mission – carried out exactly as authorized.