GAO puts workforce issues on 'high-risk' list

The General Accounting Office Wednesday released its latest report on the federal government’s biggest management challenges, naming workforce management as a “high-risk” area for the first time.

The General Accounting Office Wednesday released its biennial report on the federal government's biggest management challenges, naming workforce management as a "high-risk" area for the first time. GAO's Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Update identifies government agencies and programs at high risk of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. The first report in the series, issued in 1999, assessed major governmentwide challenges. GAO has reported on high-risk federal programs and agencies since 1990. The addition of "strategic human capital management" to the high-risk list came as no surprise. More than one-third of the employees in the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, and Comptroller General David Walker has been publicizing problems with workforce planning at government agencies on Capitol Hill and in GAO reports for years. "We need to start strategic workforce planning, we need to have better labor-management agreements. We need to do a whole host of things to bring 'people management' into the 21st century," Walker said. Most of what needs to be done can be accomplished by using and enforcing existing laws, he said. The Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and Congress have all brought attention to the pending federal workforce shortage in the past few years, but "much more needs to be done," Walker said.

The human capital issue was the only one added to GAO's high-risk list this year. Five major issues--the year 2000 computer challenge, the 2000 Census, the Superfund Program, farm loan programs and the National Weather Service's modernization plan--were removed from the list. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Program was also removed from the list, though the department as a whole remains designated as high-risk. GAO also modified two functions of the Internal Revenue Service, reducing its Earned Income Credit compliance and expanding its unpaid tax collection programs, but the agency's tax systems modernization has been on the list since 1995.

Still, the list has grown from eight programs to 22 in the past 10 years, demonstrating that agencies "have made little progress in resolving the core management challenges that continue to plague the federal government," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.