The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board’s new leader took the reins just a few weeks ago, but has already moved full speed ahead using cutting edge strategies for tracking federal spending, increasing government transparency and doggedly pursuing fraud detection and mismanagement.

Kathleen Tighe, who took over as board chair of the young agency Jan. 1 after Earl Devaney’s retirement, brings her experience in government accountability as Inspector General for the Education Department to the task of overseeing $840 billion in stimulus funds unleashed in 2009.

If you shine the light of day on transactions it helps to deter fraud.” – Kathleen Tighe

The board has employed new standards for keeping track of federal dollars and created cutting edge templates for overseeing large financial awards at its new Recovery Operations Center (ROC). These tools will identify problems with any kind of contract award.

“I think the most exciting thing is looking at testing our capabilities in the Recovery Operations Center outside the Recovery Act, that’s going to take us to a new level of impact on fraud detection and mismanagement in contracts loans and grants,” Tighe told Breaking Gov.

As a member of the agency’s board and accountability committee since April 2010, Tighe knows exactly how the Recovery Board works and its important role as the gatekeeper for information on public money.

“I am not starting from ground zero on anything I’m doing here,” she said.

Continuing to provide a roadmap for good government and transparency, Tighe points to several projects she will lead:

  • A universal award ID number for contracts, grants and loans to make it easier to track where money is going.
  • Testing an IT tool known as FastAlert so Inspectors General and program officers can run a name and company through the ROC system to see if they’ve been suspended or debarred before the award of a grant or contract. If suspensions, debarment, indictments or past government problems are flagged, ROC analysts immediately alert the agency or IG about the problem.
  • Developing and showcasing technologies outside the recovery arena that could be used government-wide.

Tighe has a lengthy background in government accountability and a wealth of experience fighting fraud.

Prior to becoming the IG at Education, she was the Deputy Inspector General at the Agriculture Department. From 1995 to 2005, she served as Counsel to the Inspector General, General Services Administration and, before that, she was an Assistant Counsel for the Office of Inspector General. From 1988 until 1991, she was a Trial Attorney with the Fraud Section of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Department of Justice.

Tighe is wearing two hats in her new role – she’ll continue working as Education’s IG and be the chairman of the Recovery Board, an unusual role but not unheard of in the federal government.
Tighe said she is establishing a schedule to do both jobs effectively.

“I’m lucky to have a strong staff at Recovery Board and at the IG’s office at Education. That makes everything doable,” Tighe said. “I’m not new to the board. I have a good baseline of operations on the recovery operations.”

Her ability to do two jobs is enthusiastically backed by Dan Levinson, the IG at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I feel very comfortable that Kathy can undertake both of these portfolios. It makes her one of a handful of people in IG community who can take multiple complex assignments and make them work,” said Levinson who wore two hats when he was the IG at HHS at the same time he was the acting IG at the General Services Administration for nine months.

Levinson adds: “I think in government almost anything is possible as long as you place the right person and knowledge skills, it does happen with some regularity.”

Phyllis K. Fong, USDA’s IG, whom Tighe worked for at Agriculture, said Tighe has the talent and skills to bring together many different ideas and make them work for the government.

“She’s able to bring consensus to people coming from different perspectives,” Fong said. “Through her tenure here, she demonstrated she could bring sophisticated thinking to a broad array of federal programs,” Fong said.

The Recovery Board sunsets on Sept. 30, 2013, but its groundbreaking work to open government is expected to go on.

A major transparency bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, that would transform how federal spending is tracked and turn the Recovery Board into a board that looks at all federal spending.

Issa’s Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2011 (the DATA Act) was built on the work of and the Recovery Board.

The DATA Act would create a board responsible for publishing and monitoring all federal spending and would create government-wide financial data reporting standards.

“When you collect spending information and put it on a website for all the public to see, it can have the beneficiary impact to keep fraud out,” Tighe said. “If you shine the light of day on transactions it helps to deter fraud.”