It's unsustainable, says the U.S. comptroller general.
Looming record federal deficits and entitlement spending that outstrips rates of economic growth requires Congress to fundamentally rethink how government operates, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Today's federal structure, with organizational fractures among departments and duplication of efforts across agencies, should be replaced with an integrated government, said David Walker, U.S. comptroller general.
"We have to get better visibility horizontally," Walker said during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing meant to highlight a new GAO report on government transformation. "We've been adding layers and layering with the presumption that the base is okay. Not only is it not okay, it's unsustainable."
Missing in government today is a push to ask basic questions such as, "How many players do we have on the field? What are they doing? Why do we need this many?" he said.
Some of the existing efforts to make government more accountable have not gone far enough, Walker said. The federal government "lacks a governmentwide strategic plan" to rectify a fragmented structure, the GAO report states. The Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool, which agencies use to submit program efficiency ratings to OMB, "is a step in the right direction, but by no means is it perfect," he said.
Bush administration efforts at reducing redundancy across the federal departments do not communicate sufficiently with those affected, Walker said. "Their consultation with key stakeholders has not always been very effective," he said.
Partnering with those parties would improve the chances of success, Walker said.
Neither the executive nor legislative branch is well-positioned to carry out the sweeping reforms needed, he said. "Realistically, the executive branch is probably going to change before the Congress, but ultimately I think the Congress is going to have to change in some ways as well," Walker said.
Senators at the hearing concurred that change in Washington, D.C., is needed. "The federal government as we know it today is not sustainable in the long run," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) , the Senate committee's ranking Democrat.
Following the hearing, Walker said federal enterprise architecture efforts could facilitate a horizontal review of government functions. "Obviously, enterprise architecture is an important part in being able to exchange information and innovate that information," he said. However, he said, the purpose of enterprise architecture is "to figure out which type of information systems we need, how to integrate those," a view federal architects have been attempting to break.
"Enterprise architecture has been viewed as a roadmap for information technology consolidation, and that's not true," said Norm Lorentz, former OMB chief technology officer. "Enterprise architecture should be used as an analysis tool to determine the redundancy in line of business process, and that's not just technology, but also process management and human capital."
GAO, in the federal enterprise architecture field, has focused on maturing agency architectures rather than measuring their business effectiveness, Lorentz added. GAO officials are in the process of developing new metrics to address that gap.
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