GAO's Walker to DOD: 'Declare a war on waste'

Comptroller General David Walker called for the Defense Department to 'declare a war on waste' and completely overhaul its legacy information management systems by the year 2012.

'There are thousands of outdated, nonintegrated systems that don't talk to each other. We need to kill or disable all nonessential business information systems,' Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, told a Senate subcommittee yesterday at a hearing on DOD's financial management.

The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security held the hearing that also included three DOD financial management officials, including Jack Patterson, a principal deputy undersecretary and comptroller.

Walker said DOD still is suffering from longstanding issues of poor financial management and inadequate accountability, practices that continue to leave the agency vulnerable to fraud and abuse.

'Because of decades-old problems, the Defense Department wastes billions of dollars every year,' Walker said.

Subcommittee chairman Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) concurred with Walker's assessment.

'If DOD was a privately owned company, it would have been bankrupt a long time ago,' Coburn said.

Walker cited DOD's use of more than 3,000 legacy information systems as an example of inefficient management. Use of these nonintegrated systems often requires multiple entries for each procurement transaction, he said.

Switching to a more integrated system at DOD should be accomplished by 2012 'at the absolute latest,' Walker said. 'We ought to be able to get our act together in this area in six years,' he said.

Indeed, DOD has made some recent progress on the reform front, Walker said. He cited the 2005 issuance of the Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness plan, aimed at improving financial practices. He also praised DOD for recognizing that reform was needed.

But the agency still needs a strategic business transformation plan, which would set out comprehensive enterprisewide performance goals, Walker said.

He also called for the creation of a Chief Management Officer at DOD, to provide consistent leadership for reform. This has been a constant request by GAO officials over the last three years. The Senate introduced a bill in May 2005 that would create a deputy secretary for management. The legislation, however, never got out of the Senate.

'It's going to take years of sustained attention,' Walker said.

In response, Patterson said DOD had already started making progress toward the kind of reforms Walker was supporting. But the enormous size of DOD made the effort 'very complex.'

'It's a matter of how do you start to put these kind of disciplines in this behemoth we call the Department of Defense?' Patterson said.

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