GAO makes it easier for senators to grill appointees

The General Accounting Office has made it easier for senators to question political appointees about the management challenges facing the agencies they are nominated to lead.

GAO compiled a list of management questions in a report released Wednesday, "Potential Questions to Elicit Nominees' Views on Agencies' Management Challenges" (GAO-01-332R). Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia, requested the report. Voinovich previously asked GAO to prepare a list of general management questions to evaluate the leadership qualities of political appointees.

"We suggest that these questions will be most useful to the Senate and the nominees if they serve as a basis for prompting discussion--both informal and formal," wrote Comptroller General David Walker in a letter accompanying the list.

The questions are based on GAO's biennial "high risk" list, which identifies management challenges at 22 major federal agencies. The questions in GAO's new report ask about specific management issues at nominees' prospective agencies. Appointees for positions at the Department of Interior, for example, would be queried about management of the Indian Trust Funds and how they would recruit specialized workers such as firefighters. A nominee for the Department of Agriculture might be asked: "What is your vision for better delivery of services to farmers in order to meet their needs in the 21st century?"

The questions were not prepared in time to be used at the Senate's confirmation hearings for most Cabinet-level appointees, but they will be available for hearings of appointees at the sub-Cabinet level, according to Voinovich spokeswoman Sara Perking. Voinovich sent the questions to the chairmen and ranking members of 13 Senate Committees last week.

"I believe that these questionnaires can be of significant value to you and your Committee during the confirmation process," Voinovich wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to his colleagues. "Using these tools will send a strong message that your Committee considers extensive knowledge and effective managerial skills a priority for all nominees to senior positions."

GAO's report also includes brief summaries of the management challenges facing agencies drawn from the "high risk" list.

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