Creation of Homeland Security Department labeled high-risk venture

The effort to build the new Homeland Security Department has made its way onto the General Accounting Office's biennial list of federal agencies and programs most vulnerable to waste, fraud and mismanagement.

On Thursday, Comptroller General David Walker released the agency's Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Update, which identifies the biggest management challenges facing the federal government. This year's list of 25 programs included seven that have been on the list since 1990, when GAO first began reporting on high-risk programs and agencies.

According to Walker, the transformation of the federal homeland security apparatus was added to the list this year because it will require a great measure of oversight to ensure effectiveness.

"Homeland Security's inclusion should come as no surprise," said House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., who appeared at the GAO event with Walker. "The federal government faces an enormous task in trying to get the department off the ground."

Other areas added to the list this year include federal disability programs, management of federal real property and the Medicaid program. "These are areas we believe need light," Walker said. "With light comes heat and with heat comes action."

The Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income program and the asset forfeiture programs managed by the Treasury and Justice departments were removed from the list. In other areas-such as governmentwide human capital management and reform of the Postal Service, which were put on the list two years ago-agencies have made considerable progress, Walker said.

"More action has happened in those two years in those two areas than has happened in the last 20 years," Walker said.

Walker praised the Bush administration's management reform efforts. "This administration has shown a sincere commitment to working on major management issues," he said. "If you look at the president's management agenda, you will find there is a direct correlation between that agenda and the high-risk list."

Davis and Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, who also appeared at the GAO event, said the high-risk list will serve as a blueprint for what their committees will focus on in the coming year.

"At a time when we are faced with budget deficits of nearly $200 billion, we cannot afford to have high-risk areas," Collins said. "Congress in the past did not delve into the operations of federal programs because other problems distracted us, but it's a commitment that I am making as committee chairwoman to spend considerable time on oversight."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said he would help agencies get the tools and resources they needed to better manage their programs.

"Much work remains to be done to improve the effectiveness of the federal government," Lieberman said. "These problems are generally longstanding and deep-rooted, and therefore, require significant agency commitment, planning and time to resolve."

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