Kusserow on Compliance: Preparing for compliance investigations

Most compliance officers are not professionally trained investigators and are unsure how to decide whether an issue warrants a formal investigation. Also, the great majority of issues presented to compliance officers can be resolved relatively easily without need of an investigation.  However, when situations arise warranting an investigation, it is important to know what needs to be done and how. At every step in an investigation, there are rules that must be followed regarding how things must be done—working with other internal or external parties, determining how to manage the records of investigations, and so on. It is important for anyone who may be called upon to investigate, to take time to learn some of the fundamentals of the process. The first step for any investigation is taking time to analyze all known facts upon receipt of a complaint, allegation, or information suggesting a potential wrongdoing. After this, the next step is to decide upon a course of action, such as:

  1. Closing the matter without the need of further action
  2. Having enough information to take adverse or corrective action on the issue
  3. Need to investigate to clarify issues
  4. Referring the matter to legal counsel
  5. Disclosing a violation to a duly authorized governmental authority

The following should be considered when the decision is to investigate:

  • Knowing who the deciding authority is and what they will need to make a decision
  • Development of the investigative plan
  • Establishing the scope of the investigation
  • Who is the person best qualified to conduct the investigation?
  • Whether the investigation should be under direction of legal counsel

Time is a major enemy and is a force with which to contend in any internal investigation. There is a lot involved in even a simple investigation.  It includes two key elements: documentary evidence and conducting interviews. Knowing what documents are needed is important but knowing how to properly conduct interviews requires some training and skill to produce optimum results and reduce the risks of losing valuable information and time. Writing reports of interviews and the final Investigations Report is also very important. There is both a right and wrong way to do these things.

Conducting successful compliance investigations requires professional competence and friendly persuasion, not upon the authority and power of a government agency backed by the courts. One of the most common and costly mistakes is for individual to conduct investigations without having proper training and experience. It is advisable to engage an expert to teach basic investigation fundamentals on how to: (a) conduct interviews, (b) gather evidence, and  (c) file and store documents and evidence. A few hours of training will not create a professional investigator but may provide enough guidance to ensure that proper steps are followed to avoid costly mistakes. It is also advisable to have protocols in place and in advance of being confronted with an investigation to provide guidance on how to proceed.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.