Workforce woes labeled 'high risk'

Government workforce issues for the first time have been placed on the General Accounting Office's high-risk list reserved for programs that are vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse, the agency announced on Wednesday.

GAO Comptroller General David Walker said that agencies have not paid enough attention to strategic human-capital management—people management—and this has put agencies at risk for future success.

Agencies with such risks include the Federal Aviation Administration, which allows culture problems to contribute to delays and cost overruns in its air traffic modernization program, and the Defense Department, which is facing problems retaining computer programmers.

"The reason we put [strategic human-capital management] on the high-risk list is not because government employees are the problem," Walker said. "The problem is lack of strategic planning and outdated" workforce management strategies. "We need to look at people as an asset."

Technology jobs in government are among the "critical occupations" that are of serious concern, Walker said, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area where agencies are competing not only with each other but also with high-tech companies for technology workers.

Ultimately, a complete overhaul of the civil service is needed, Walker said, but until then, most changes can be made under existing legislation.

Poor workforce planning causes many underlying management problems, said Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, GOP leader of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"The fact that the federal government doesn't adequately hire and retain the right people is a root cause of many specific high-risk problems, as well as many of the other critical performance problems in many individual agencies," Thompson said. "These kinds of management challenges prevent the federal government from doing the people's business."

Other problems GAO highlighted on its 2001 high-risk list include:

Information security. FAA air traffic control modernization and financial management. IRS tax systems modernization and financial management. DOD systems modernization and financial management. NASA contract management. Some programs previously on the high-risk list have been removed, including:

The Year 2000 computer problem. The 2000 census. National Weather Service modernization.

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