GAO wants to lead by example

GAO fiscal 2002 budget request

General Accounting Office officials have asked Congress to help the agency practice what it preaches when it comes to the newest governmentwide high-risk area — the federal workforce.

Information technology and human capital management are the top two priorities in GAO's fiscal 2002 budget request, the agency's comptroller general, David Walker, told Senate appropriators last month. GAO officials had previously recognized both those areas as governmentwide problems and placed them on its high-risk list of programs that are vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

But the agency — whose sole purpose is to produce audits, reports and guides for other agencies — has been woefully underfunded for the past three years, making it difficult to address its own workforce and technology needs, Walker said.

GAO officials have been forced to pull much-needed dollars from the mission-support side of the budget to keep the agency running, said Sallyanne Harper, chief mission support officer and chief financial officer at GAO. And Congress continues to request more reports, which requires more resources and personnel.

As a result, GAO officials have had to defer investments intended for "what we feel are critical needs for technology to support our workforce, and also human capital needs," Harper said.

Given the complex nature of the agency's work, most of its auditors and evaluators have at least a master's degree. Such candidates are harder to recruit and retain than others, and GAO does not have the money to offer even basic recruitment incentives — such as student loan repayments — that other agencies can offer, Harper said.

Today's workers are also quite comfortable with technology. The agency has found that what is true across government is also true internally, and "we can't keep them if we don't have technology that can address what they're used to," Harper said.

GAO plans to give notebook computers to evaluators to use in the field. And that field is big because "wherever the federal dollar goes, so do we," Harper said.

For fiscal 2002, the agency is requesting $405,000 to set up a virtual private network to provide a secure connection for remote users, and to upgrade the agency's intrusion-detection system. GAO is also requesting $850,000 for basic infrastructure improvements, such as upgrading from Microsoft Corp.'s Office 97 to Office 2000.

Those are only part of an overarching $2.6 million request for "enabling technology initiatives" to increase employee productivity through the use of technology, including investments in the agency's business management systems and videoconferencing capabilities.

"We try to live lean," Harper said. "We don't try to go so much for the sexy products as the basic needs."

Another $750,000 would go to upgrading GAO's computer security facility, a lab that auditors use to conduct an increasing number of evaluations of other agencies' security capabilities. As information security becomes more of a concern across government and Congress requests more and more reports in that area, the lab "needs to stay absolutely as current as possible," Harper said.

Fred Thompson, a member of the CIO Council's Federal IT Workforce Committee, welcomes GAO's new emphasis on its workforce needs. "It's certainly appropriate for them. What's the main product GAO turns out? Reports. And what's the main resource for that product? People," he said, adding that GAO sets a good example for other agencies to follow.

Technical upgrades and the money to attract skilled staff are essential, Harper said. And GAO needs funding to offer ongoing training to retain security professionals who could easily find jobs elsewhere in the government or private industry.

As it has often recommended to other agencies, last year GAO realigned itself to better address its mission based on a new strategic plan. But organizational changes are not enough. GAO must continue to demonstrate to agencies that its recommendations are not empty, Harper said. "We attempt to lead by example, to be a model agency," she said.


GAO fiscal 2002 budget highlights:

* $1 million for performance-based recognition and compensation programs.

* $2.6 million for new information technology initiatives, tools and


* $750,000 to upgrade the computer security audit lab.

* $400,000 for training and professional development programs.


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