Report highlights stubborn management problems

Agencies have made progress in attacking several high-risk problems, but persistent management challenges remain across the federal government, according to the General Accounting Office.

GAO's 2001 Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Update, released last week, listed the federal programs most prone to waste, fraud and abuse due to mismanagement in the areas of financial management, information technology and contracting. "Serious problems continue to simmer and impede government's ability to be as effective and as accountable as it should be," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "These problems are deep-rooted, and require significant agency improvement." The 22 items remaining on GAO's high-risk list include programs from the Defense Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Energy Department, the Forest Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and NASA. "Eight of the programs... have been on the high-risk list for a decade, and another eight have been on the list since at least 1995," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. "It's time for them to get off." Several Defense Department problems are listed as high-risk, including systems modernization, financial management, infrastructure management, inventory management, weapon systems acquisition and contract management. According to GAO, DoD needs to develop strategic plans with specific outcomes, recruit and retain skilled military personnel, reduce contract risk and establish accountability in financial management operations. The IRS, GAO said, continues to have trouble with tax systems modernization, financial management, tax collection and earned income credit compliance. The Forest Service was singled out for financial management difficulties and the Energy Department for contract management issues. GAO chief David Walker said the problems could be addressed by "comprehensively reassessing what government does and how government does business in the 21st century."

"We have a window of opportunity to address a range of policy and program issues while our fiscal sun is shining and before the demographic tidal wave hits," Walker said, making reference to the budget surplus and the anticipated retirement of hundreds of thousands of federal employees. "In doing so, we must recognize the differences between wants, which are unlimited, needs, which can and should be defined, and overall affordability, which is a very real issue."

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