Human capital woes make high-risk operations worse, GAO says

GAO Headquarters Shutterstock photo ID: 291526481 By Mark Van Scyoc 

The majority of high-risk government operations areas are plagued by personnel issues that add to ongoing problems, a top oversight official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office issued its biennial update on areas of government operations susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse on Tuesday. As it has for two decades, the 2021 report includes a section on strategic human capital management.

That's actually at the root of many of the problems, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told lawmakers at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Twenty-two of the 35 high-risk areas in the report are plagued by skills gaps that contribute to their overall problems, he said.

"Mission-critical skills gaps are the root cause in high-risk areas across the government," the report says.

Within the report's section on strategic human capital management writ large, the lack of Senate-confirmed leadership within the Office of Personnel Management for 18 of the last 24 months actually brought the rating down since 2019, the report says.

At the same time, the office should be playing a outsized role in addressing certain skills gaps, like cybersecurity, which has long been plagued with pipeline problems, Dodaro said.

None of the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act have fully implemented best practices for cybersecurity and information technology workforce planning, the report says.

Sen. Kyrsten Simena (D-Ariz.) asked Dodaro if the Human Capital Officers Council – a council of top agency personnel officers – could help agencies complete full needs assessments for the cyber workforce, which the report notes that many have not completed.

The individual officers can help agencies plan their workforces, but would first need more education on the specific needs agencies have in cybersecurity.

The Office of Personnel Management has real potential to play a leading role in developing the cybersecurity workforce, Dodaro said.

"They could be providing much greater leadership in helping develop the workforce," he said. "I would encourage this committee, when they have the nominee for the nominee for the Office of Personnel Management to talk to them about their important leadership role potentially in this area as well."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.


  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected