GAO's list of 25 high-risk programs is heavy on Defense

The ongoing legal and policy missteps of agencies using governmentwide acquisition contracts, and several Defense Department programs, have drawn the attention of the Government Accountability Office and at least one prominent lawmaker.

The GAO today listed management of interagency contracting as one of four new areas that are considered high-risk programs. And Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, said the audit agency's findings reinforces the need to take a look at the growing number of supply schedules.

'There are so many schedules out there, I'm nervous about the oversight and expertise they are receiving from contracting officers and agency procurement executives,' Davis said. 'As a whole, schedules are getting out of hand.'

Along with interagency contracting, GAO listed homeland security information sharing, the Defense Department's business transformation and DOD's personnel security clearance program as new high-risk areas. The audit agency submits a list of high-risk programs to Congress every two years. This year the list includes 25 programs; DOD is directly involved in 14 of them.

'It is GAO's intention to shed light on areas in need of help as well as bring heat to prompt needed actions,' said GAO comptroller general David Walker. 'There has been some progress in all areas, but the degree of progress varied dramatically.'

Besides the four new areas, GAO listed a number of high-profile IT projects among the 21 high-risk programs, such as the IRS's business systems modernization, the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control modernization initiative, protecting the federal government's information systems and the nation's critical infrastructure, and DOD's financial management. GAO also removed three programs from the high-risk list. Those include the Education Department's Student Financial Aid program, FAA's financial management and the Agriculture Department's Forest Service financial management initiative.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the list is a 'frank assessment of problems' that guides Congress and the administration to find ways to fix waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiencies in these programs. Collins said her committee would provide 'aggressive oversight' to these high-risk areas.

Walker said nine of the 25 areas require the attention of Congress and the administration to fix.

In adding interagency contract management to the list, GAO found the fee-for-service arrangement creates an incentive to increase sales volume in order to support other agency programs. It also established that agencies need to clarify who holds the responsibility of describing requirements, negotiating terms and conducting oversight.

In adding information sharing to its list, GAO said the Homeland Security Department is late in developing a plan to manage its data sharing responsibilities with non-federal entities. GAO also said the department's enterprise architecture did not include many of the 34 networks auditors identified as supporting information sharing among federal agencies and others.

DOD is facing the most challenges with its business systems modernization initiative, GAO said. Auditors recommended legislation to create a full-time chief management officer who reports to the secretary of Defense and has full authority over all business transformation efforts.

GAO found 'little tangible evidence of actual improvement has been seen in DOD's business operations to date.' Auditors said DOD still has not developed an enterprise architecture for its business systems or a clear plan with milestones and accountability mechanisms to monitor progress.

Walker said DOD's record is 'unacceptable and should not be tolerated.'

Lawmakers said they will use this list as a roadmap for oversight hearings for the 109th Congress.

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