Sharing leads GAO risk list

GAO High Risk Series

Cross-government information sharing for homeland security tops the list of four new federal efforts at high risk of failure, according to an updated Government Accountability Office list of programs in jeopardy.

"We haven't achieved the homeland security that the law requires us to achieve," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) during a Capitol Hill press conference. "The risk here is to the personal security of the American people."

In addition, GAO auditors added the Defense Department's business transformation efforts and personnel security clearance program to the list. Auditors update the list every two years at the beginning of each new Congress.

Of the 25 high-risk items, six belong exclusively to the Pentagon and eight are governmentwide. "This means that the Department of Defense has 14 of the 25 high-risk areas," said David Walker, GAO comptroller general. "This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated."

A new area of high risk involves the management of interagency contracting, the auditors said. Ameliorating contracting management will probably not require legislative action, but a majority of the other at-risk items will require Congress to pass new laws, he said.

Five of the items on the high-risk list have been there since the list's inception in 1990, among them is DOD weapon systems acquisition. "We're talking about billions and billions of dollars, 15 years and nothing's been done," Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said.

Voinovich decried what he termed the "built-in incest" of DOD officials working for major corporations following their government duty.

Auditors cleared the Education Department's student financial aid programs and financial management operations at the Federal Aviation Administration and the Agriculture Department's Forest Service after finding they no longer merited the high-risk designation. Removal from the list "does not mean that things are perfect," Walker said, just that the agencies have achieved some sustainable progress.

Government spending is spiraling out of control, Walker added. Mandatory spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid now consumes 74 percent of the federal budget and tax revenue cannot keep pace, he said. "It is clear that there is no way we can grow our way out of this problem," he said.

That fact combined with the many at-risk areas means government needs to undergo a significant revision of the type that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, Walker said. "It's time that we modernize government to effectively address 21st-century realities and resource constraints," he said. A forthcoming report due for publication in February will address government transformation, he said.

Florence Olsen contributed to this story.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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