Senators to Bush: Get tough on high-risk problems

Two prominent Republican senators want agencies to get serious about resolving the government's toughest management challenges. In a March 29 letter to Office of Management and Budget director Mitch Daniels, Sens. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, called on agencies to develop performance goals for resolving each of the 22 governmentwide problems on the General Accounting Office's 2001 high-risk list. Agencies should include these new goals in their annual performance plans required under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, the lawmakers wrote. "We believe it is important to have such goals and target dates and that they be challenging," wrote the senators. "We think the Bush administration must take this task on." Thompson is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, while Voinovich chairs its Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia. GAO's biennial high-risk list identifies government agencies and programs vulnerable to waste, abuse and mismanagement. While GAO has tracked high-risk agencies and programs since 1990, the Clinton administration did not link its management agenda to GAO's list, instead opting to issue its own annual list of priority management objectives. Accordingly, the high-risk list was rarely used to prod agencies toward better management, wrote Thompson and Voinovich. "Unfortunately, the prior administration refused to develop goals to solve the high-risk problems," they wrote. "As a result, we have made little progress." The senators acknowledged that setting measurable goals for certain high-risk problems will be difficult, and suggested that agencies set intermediate goals to track progress on problems that will take more than a year to resolve. Voinovich also plans to use the high-risk list as a tool to increase congressional oversight of federal management challenges, according to a staffer with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. While the March 29 letter stresses steps the executive branch can take to improve management weaknesses, Voinovich also supports plans to hold periodic oversight hearings to track agencies' progress in eliminating high-risk problems. "If the executive branch doesn't have heat from Congress, it won't get it done," said the staffer. Thompson and Voinovich have yet to receive a response from Daniels, according to the staffer.
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