Hite keeps investigations humming
Accountability and performance are key measures for streamlined GAO
Congressional auditors are known for dishing out criticism, but they can't escape close scrutiny of their own work. Best to aim at being a model of accountability, "if you're going to throw stones like we do," said Randolph "Randy" Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues at the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency.
Hite said he doesn't mind the accountability standards being turned inward. He thinks that measuring people's performance using percentages and sliding scales, for example, is an effective way to manage and that people prefer knowing the expectations of supervisors and others at work.
Where Hite works, the words "accountability," "integrity" and "reliability" are displayed in free-standing letters above the front doors. Comptroller General David Walker, GAO's top official, wasted no time putting his mark on the federal building in Washington, D.C., which is the headquarters for the agency's 3,300 employees.
"You should have seen how quickly our core values went up above the door," Hite said. "Even before we got the metal ones to go up there, there were some cut out of plywood that were painted silver."
Since Walker arrived at GAO, he has streamlined and reduced many parts of the organization,Hite said.Walker came from Arthur Andersen, a consulting firm, where he was global managing director of the company's human capital services practice and a recognized expert in organizational transformation.
Walker set about to make GAO a model for the rest of the federal government, Hite said. If GAO is preaching that the rest of government should be doing something specific, then Walker wants GAO to do it first. And for the most part,Walker's management philosophy has paid off in what Hite said are quantifiable performance improvements.
Last year, for example, Congress and federal agencies implemented 83 percent of GAO's recommendations, exceeding the agency's target of 79 percent. GAO missed its timeliness target by only 1 percentage point, because auditors delivered 97 percent of their reports to Congress on the date they were promised, Hite said. "We don't have situations like we had 10 to 15 years ago, when jobs went on for months after they were promised."
When Walker reorganized GAO, he eliminated a layer in the organization and integrated the remaining components,Hite said.With the divisional structure swept away, Hite shares responsibility for one of 13 GAO review teams. The IT team of about 160 auditors examines all facets of federal IT. He specializes in IT architecture and systems. In addition, Hite has responsibility for reviews of the Defense, Homeland Security, State and Treasury departments, NASA and the Executive Office of the President.
He also reviews issues related to voting systems.
When lawmakers ask for a review of an agency program or a study of how far an agency has advanced in developing its IT architecture plans, GAO employees with expertise needed for that review are assigned a role, Hite said.
During such reviews, Hite tries to discover an agency's top-down capacity to manage IT. But he also tries not to lose sight of bottom-up issues. The program level the FBI's Virtual Case File or DHS' U.S.Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, known as USVISIT, for example is the place to observe whether institutional controls are achieving their intended purpose, he said.
Interviews are the least reliable way of gathering evidence for an agency review, Hite said. "So we look for documentation demonstrating that certain things are being done," he said. "Documentation and observation are much stronger forms of evidence."
The statement "although much progress has been made, challenges remain" has become a signature feature of reports in which GAO's auditors present their findings.
The carefully chosen words,Hite said, reflect the auditors' attempt to achieve objectivity, balance and nonpartisanship.
Melissa Wojciak, staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, said Hite is thoughtful and thorough. "He's very capable about making sure he uncovers all aspects of a topic," she said. After 27 years at GAO, Hite is so much a part of the culture that he can make sly jokes, such as this one, about the agency's reputation: "You know what the two biggest lies in government are? GAO shows up at an agency's doorstep, and the agency says, 'Oh, we're glad you're here.'And GAO responds, 'We're only here to help.' "
Kidding aside, Hite said, GAO has exceptional relationships with some federal agencies whose executives are eager to know whatever GAO auditors discover in the course of a review. They want the agencies they lead to become better public institutions, and they recognize that GAO can help, he said.