Federal inspectors general told Congress they could save taxpayers billions of dollars if they had bigger staffs to investigate waste, fraud and corruption.

“Potential savings represent about a $17 return on every dollar invested in the IGs,” Peggy Gustafson, inspector general of the Small Business Administration, said earlier this week at a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce.

Gustafson was testifying on behalf of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

“We have a ways to go before we see diminishing returns,” Gustafson said.

Budget cuts mandated by the sequester process have forced IGs to reduce their staffs, with a result that they can't be as effective on behalf of taxpayers, she said.

“This looks like a way to fix the national debt,” said Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who chairs the subcommittee.

“Many offices reported undertaking hiring restrictions and limiting new investments to operate under current budget levels,” Gustafson said.

“Reductions in personnel will inevitably require us to reduce the number of audits, investigations and reviews that we conduct,” Michael Horowitz, IG of the Justice Department, told the subcommittee.

Cutbacks also limit travel, he added. Physically visiting sites of investigation allows the IG staff to conduct reviews more effectively.

“Maybe we should have an IG report on how much the fact that you guys don’t have the personnel you need is costing the government,” Tester said.

Though such a number has not been tallied, the amount saved by the 78 federal IGs has, according to Gustafson.

The total budget for the 78 IGs was $2.7 billion in 2013, and their total potential savings — if all of their recommendations are implemented — came to approximately $46.3 billion.

As an example, Horowitz said the DOJ IG has “identified over $900 million in questioned costs, more than the IG’s budget during the same period” over the past decade.

In addition, $250 million of taxpayer funds were identified as misused and $118 million was recovered over the same period, he said.