Letter to the Editor

Defending his record

I was surprised and disappointed to read Bureaucratus' column in the Aug. 16 edition of Federal Computer Week ["Comptroller general wrong about fed managers"]. I would normally ignore such musings, but the column was so far off base I felt that some reply was in order.

The testimony he referred to on the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) was delivered over six months ago, and in my opinion, his comments are way off the mark. As my full statement and oral testimony made clear, the problem is not the federal worker, it's the system. Those who have done their homework on me know that this is my considered view.

As comptroller general of the United States, I serve as the chief executive officer of the General Accounting Office and as the nation's chief accountability officer. GAO is the third federal agency that I have led. In addition, I served as the global managing director of Arthur Andersen's Human Capital Services practice before assuming my current responsibilities. Let me assure you that I have extensive firsthand experience and knowledge in the areas of strategic planning and human capital matters, and so do a number of other professionals at GAO. If we didn't have such experience and the facts to back up our views, I would not have delivered my February testimony.

I agree with Bureaucratus that you cannot legislate good performance. In addition, GPRA is not a panacea. It is simply a means to achieve an end—namely, a more results- and outcome-oriented federal government. You don't need legislation to do this; however, many agencies have not pursued this approach in the past. As a result, the legislation was enacted to require them to take a more strategic and performance-based approach to the management of federal departments and agencies.

I have no idea what Bureaucratus' background is in strategic planning and human capital matters, but there is no question that most performance measurement and reward systems in the federal government are not linked to results- and outcome-oriented measures. It is also true that many federal performance measurement systems are afflicted with a bad case of "grade inflation," with little to no meaningful feedback or differentiation in performance ratings. As a result, it is extremely difficult to reward above-expected performance and even more difficult to deal with poor performers. These are facts, not opinion. I don't know how long Bureaucratus has been retired, but this condition has existed for many years; it has just gotten worse.

The simple fact of the matter is that you cannot achieve the goals of GPRA without effective human capital strategies. The federal government has a long way to go in this area. We at GAO will try to play a constructive role in helping to make things better, and we will never blame the federal worker.

By the time I finish my 15-year term as comptroller general, I will have dedicated over half of my working life to public service. I believe that public service is a high calling, and I have a great deal of respect for government workers who dedicate their lives to "the greater good." To imply that I feel otherwise is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

In the final analysis, I'll let my track record speak for itself.

David M. Walker

U.S. comptroller general

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