10/19/2011 12:00 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2011

Inspectors General Save Taxpayers Billions, Earn Plaques From Eric Holder

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Government watchdogs identified potential savings of $87.2 billion in 2010 in investigations of everything from defective drugs to disaster loan fraud, according a study by the U.S. inspectors general oversight organization.

In the wake of its annual report to the president, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency held a ceremony in Washington on Tuesday, where Attorney General Eric Holder handed out awards to top auditors and investigators in the 12,600-person strong IG community.

"It's an honor to stand with you in paying tribute to the exemplary achievements of inspectors general and dedicated IG staff members from more than 70 agencies - large and small - across the federal government," Holder said.

The Alexander Hamilton Award, the years' highest honor, went to the Department of Transportation's OIG "in recognition of significant contributions to enhancing the safety of our nation's bridges," he said before handing the team a plaque. Bridge safety has come under increased scrutiny in recent years after one in Minneapolis collapsed killing 13 people.

IGs can only recommend savings and point out abuses. After their offices file a report it is up to agency leaders to enact changes or the Department of Justice to pursue civil or criminal charges.

And Holder has been an active prosecutor of the crimes IGs have uncovered. Here are some award-winning OIGs that the attorney general has worked with:

  • The Small Business Administration's Disaster Assistance Group audit team. It identified $925.6 million in Community Development Block Grant funds that were inappropriately used to pay down the agency's disaster loans.
  • The Department Veterans Affairs. Its investigative team won a $750 million civil settlement and criminal fines from GlaxoSmithKline after it found the company had been selling the government defective drugs.
  • The General Services Administration. It was the only other agency where the OIG was awarded for recovered tens of millions of misspent tax dollars. IG Brian D. Miller and his staff did it twice, scoring Excellence Awards for recovering $48 million from Cisco Systems for pricing irregularities and $93.5 million from Verizon Communications for overcharging the agency.
  • The Justice Department's Project Gunrunner team. More commonly known as "Fast and Furious," the botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives operation allowed more than 2,000 guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, as iWatch News first reported in March. Holder has since come under fire from congressional investigators for what Justice knew about the failed operation.

Read more investigations at iWatch News