GAO re-examines agency missions, including IT's role

The Government Accountability Office today released a broad re-examination of the federal government's role in 12 areas, noting that information technology has not only 'resulted in many positive outcomes but also presented many new challenges, concerns and vulnerabilities.'

IT has raised productivity, opened the workforce to the disabled and altered the way citizens interact with agencies, GAO said in the 94-page 21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government.

But, GAO added, 'interconnectivity has raised the potential for unauthorized access to personal and confidential data' and has exposed critical infrastructures to many new vulnerabilities.

The report covers the full range of government operations; comments on IT make up a fairly small part.

High-risk systems programs in the Defense Department drew particular criticism from GAO. On the positive side, the watchdog agency praised the building of new information systems to disseminate medical outcome data, improve medical practice standards and safeguard privacy.

In an introduction to the report, comptroller general David M. Walker wrote, 'Given the size of our projected deficit, tough choices will be required' to prioritize spending in the 12 examined areas.

The areas correspond roughly to the missions of existing departments and agencies, rearranged into a new order: national defense, education and employment, financial regulation and housing, health care, homeland security, international affairs, natural resources and the environment, retirement and disability policy, scientific and technological innovation, transportation, governance and taxation.

GAO called for policymakers to adopt a 'Re-examination Maturity Model,' somewhat similar to the maturity models promoted by the Software Engineering Institute to improve performance in software development, acquisition and integration.

The re-examination model would follow a series of steps: initial agenda-setting by GAO and other qualified organizations, congressional hearings, annual budget prioritization and, finally, changes in federal activities enforced by temporary special commissions, budget reauthorization, sunset provisions and executive reorganization.

GAO said such priority shifts are already under way via the Government Performance and Results Act, the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool, Social Security and intelligence reform, and establishment of the Homeland Security Department.

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