Mismanagement 'shocking,' says outgoing Senate panel chair
Thompson presented the two-volume report, "Government at the Brink," to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels at a press conference that marked the final day of his four-year tenure as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
The report contains "unusually strong statements because [management issues] have been under the radar in this town for too long," Thompson said.
As chairman of the Senate panel that oversees agency operations, Thompson has spent years identifying federal waste, fraud and abuse and has made accountability at agencies a priority. "The only thing we need to solve these problems is leadership," he said.
The burden is on Congress to use the appropriations process to reward high-performing agencies and punish poor performers, Thompson said. At the same time, executive branch leadership is critical, he said. "They're your problems now," Thompson said as he handed Daniels the report.
The report sharply criticized the Clinton administration for ignoring federal management issues, but Thompson told Daniels he has been encouraged by the Bush administration's work so far. "We haven't had any management at OMB before now. [The Bush administration] is putting the emphasis where it needs to be," he said.
Daniels urged legislators from both parties to actively support government management reforms, but lamented that politicians find it more rewarding to announce a new program than to fix an existing one.
Bush administration officials will take a fresh look at low-performing agencies and will attempt to better align the federal government's skills needs with its workforce, Daniels said. In February, Daniels issued a memo outlining reforms the Bush administration will make to meet its management goals, including reducing layers of management, cutting overpayments and improving the government acquisition process.
The report said the four most urgent problems facing the federal government are workforce management, financial management, information technology management and duplicative programs. Agencies face a "crisis of competence" in hiring, motivating and holding accountable its workforce, Thompson said. The government can't pass a financial audit, makes billions in overpayments annually and can't accurately account for its property or equipment, he said. In addition, Thompson argued, federal information technology advancements are hampered by mismanagement and computer security weaknesses. Finally, multiple agencies and programs try to solve the same problems in virtually all aspects of the federal government, the report concluded.
In addition, the report included a list of 10 mismanaged federal efforts, headed by the infrastructure project in Boston known as the "Big Dig." The other items on the list were:
- Abuse of American Indian trust funds.
- Improper Medicare payments totaling nearly $12 billion annually.
- Security violations at Energy Department nuclear labs.
- Tangled finances at the Internal Revenue Service and the Defense Department.
- Fraud and abuse in student financial aid programs.
- Health and safety issues at veterans hospitals.
- Mission failures at NASA.
- Unemployment insurance fraud.