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Frequently Asked Questions and Terms

This list provides explanations concerning commonly asked questions and misunderstood terms in the EPA OIG. Please use the Search the OIG box to the right to locate any specific OIG work. 



The EPA OIG conducts financial and performance audits to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations and programs. Audits identify potential fraud, waste and abuse; assess program compliance and management of agency processes; identify opportunities to improve human health and the environment; and offer recommendations for cost savings and other efficiencies.

Audits differ from investigations in that they do not deal with criminal activities and generally look at groups, processes, controls or structures, not individual employees. Also, when initiated, most audits are announced publicly, and upon their conclusion, a final report is posted on the OIG’s public website.


Investigators (job series 1811, known as "special agents") conduct the EPA OIG’s criminal investigations, which look for violations of the law. Special agents carry badges and guns, and as law enforcement officials are authorized to make arrests and execute search warrants. Investigations may involve such areas as financial fraud, employee misconduct, intrusion into EPA systems and computers, impersonating EPA officials, theft of EPA property and funds, and threats and assaults against EPA employees and contractors. If a federal law is violated, the OIG presents the evidence to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which determines if the subject(s) will be prosecuted. If the OIG’s investigation uncovers no evidence that a crime was committed, the case is closed. If the investigation finds administrative but no criminal violation, a report is given to the agency for action.

The OIG typically does not announce, confirm or deny the existence of an open investigation or make public the results of investigations. However, once an investigation has been closed, the report of investigation (ROI) and related documents may be available under the Freedom of Information Act.

Both audits and investigations can be initiated of the OIG’s own volition or in response to a hotline tip or congressional request. If potential criminal wrongdoing is discovered during the course of an audit, it is referred to the OIG’s Office of Investigations for follow-up. If efficiency, effectiveness or compliance issues are discovered during the course of an investigation, those are referred to the OIG’s Office of Audit & Evaluation for consideration of a spinoff project.

Threat Investigation

A generic term the OIG uses to classify the type of investigation in the OIG's case management system. It does not necessarily mean that every case opened as "threat investigation" reveals evidence of an actual threat.

Threat Assessment

A guide usually used by decision makers at the EPA in determining the type and amount of security needed to address the protection of a person, event or facility. It includes all available information, including the results of OIG threat investigations, but also other factors, such as notoriety, history of threats or violence directed against the person or event, other dangers or potential dangers that may be associated with the person or event, and location, to name a few.

Management Alert

If during a project the team identifies a significant, time-critical issue, the information can be conveyed through a management alert. The management alert may be an interim report, to be followed by an additional report, or it can be the final report with no more to follow.

Titles of Popular OIG Publications

These terms are defined in their respective areas of this website: Project Notification Memorandum, Semiannual Report to Congress, Key Management Challenges and the Annual Plan. Please visits these areas to learn more.