Workforce woes make GAO's high-risk list

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, abuse and mismanagement.

On Jan. 17, 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' future success at risk.

Those with problems include the Federal Aviation Administration, whose culture problems contribute to delays and cost overruns in its air traffic modernization program, and the Defense Department, which is struggling to retain 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 out-dated" 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 compete not only with each other but also with high-technology companies for workers.

Ultimately, a complete overhaul of the civil service is needed, Walker said, but until then, most changes can be made under existing legislation. He said the government must undertake strategic workforce planning, collect more customer feedback, change how it rewards employees and modernize its recruiting efforts.

Poor workforce planning causes many underlying management problems, said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) head 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," he said.

In today's Information Age, the government must make sure it hires the right people with the right skills, said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), ranking member on the Senate committee.

"To attract and retain knowledge workers, we need to enhance the appeal of public service and make the government a more attractive employer," he said.

Of the 26 items on GAO's 1999 high-risk list, five have been removed and two have been reduced on the 2001 list. Strategic human capital management is the only addition to the list this year (see box).Dubious distinction

Other programs on GAO's 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 removed from earlier lists include:

The Year 2000 date change problem. National Weather Service modernization.View this story online at for extra coverage: Examples of agencies with human capital challenges, as noted in GAO's high-risk list. Each department's problematic IT programs, as noted in GAO's latest Performance and Accountability Series.


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