Hill takes a close look at high-risk programs

GAO's David Walker says Defense's business transformation record is 'unacceptable and should not be tolerated.'

Henrik G. de Gyor

The Defense Department runs eight programs that are at risk of failing, including its initiative to transform 4,700 business systems.

And Congress is ready to take action.

'This is the 15th anniversary for a number of DOD programs, including weapons acquisition and supply chain management, and that is very discouraging,' Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said. 'We will follow up on these specific areas later this year, especially those that have been on the list for 15 years.'

The Government Accountability Office, which listed 25 programs on its bi-annual high-risk list, recommended legislative fixes for nine of them, including DOD's approach to business transformation.

The audit agency submits a list of high-risk programs to Congress every two years. Last month's report listed four new areas: interagency contracting management, homeland security information sharing, and DOD's business transformation and security clearance programs.

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

Lawmakers said they will use the list as a road map for oversight hearings this year.

DOD is facing the most serious 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 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.

Lawmakers also promised to pay attention to the risks associated with interagency contract management.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said the audit agency's findings reinforce the need to take a look at the growing number of supply schedules.

The concerns

'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.'

Besides the four new areas, GAO listed a number of high-profile IT projects among the 21 other high-risk programs, such as the IRS 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 removed three programs from the high-risk list:
  • Education Department's Student Financial Aid program

  • FAA's financial management

  • Forest Service's financial management initiative.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate 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' on these high-risk areas.

In adding interagency contract management to the list, GAO found that fee-for-service arrangements create an incentive to increase sales volume to support other agency programs. The report said agencies should 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 nonfederal entities. GAO also said DHS' enterprise architecture did not include many of the 34 networks auditors identified as supporting information sharing among agencies and others.

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