Senator eyes 'shock therapy' for agencies

Thompson government management report: Volume 1

The continuing inability of federal agencies to get a handle on their information technology and workforce problems undercuts the government's efforts to improve services and performance, according to Sen. Fred Thompson.

Thompson (R-Tenn.) released a report June 5 to the Office of Management and Budget that cites the top management challenges facing the federal government. It came the day before he yielded chairmanship of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).

The report also highlighted how agencies can't track spending, as well as the number of duplicate programs run by different agencies. For example, seven agencies currently maintain 40 job- training programs that often overlap.

The findings, which focused on 17 agencies, noted that the increasing lack of skilled employees — combined with the increasing number of failing IT systems and information security vulnerabilities — affects everything else within government. "We all know that [IT], along with people, form the basis of what the government is trying to do," Thompson said.

The report presents no original research, but instead reflects a compilation of previous reports from Thompson's committee, the General Accounting Office and agency inspectors general. Thompson handed the report directly to OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. at a scheduled event held on the lawn outside the U.S. Capitol.

The report makes it clear that no governmentwide progress has been made in the problem areas and they need much more attention, Thompson said.

"Perhaps addressing this [in] this way will provide a little shock therapy," he said.

Part of the therapy may be to take another look at how the government — in both the executive and legislative branches — is organized to deal with management issues, Thompson said. Such an idea has been passed around before, but Thompson called for renewed debate and possibly a commission to explore the situation.

"Some kind of across-the-board government reorganization is needed to address these issues," he said. Daniels, meanwhile, restated OMB's commitment to emphasizing accountability at the agencies. "We've got to begin to get some traction in the effective measurement of output," he said.

It will take work by the executive and legislative branches to be successful, Daniels said. "You've got to be equally incensed" that these problems persist, he said. "This will have to be a joint effort."

OMB's scrutiny of performance represents a positive sign from an agency that in recent years has focused more on budgets than on management responsibilities, Thompson said.

"They're putting the emphasis now where it needs to be, on the management, so I see an opportunity to get something started," he said.

Congress also needs to recognize that "we're going to have to spend some money, especially in the [IT] area," Thompson said.

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