GAO sets up transition Web site

The Government Accountability Office has identified 13 urgent issues that will require the attention of incoming President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress next month.

Information on these issues as well as information on agency-specific issues and major opportunities for cost savings was culled from GAO's institutional knowledge and posted on a new Web site launched today. Issues such as the upcoming census, the digital TV transition and homeland security have IT elements that GAO has said need to be addressed.

Also on the site are links to reports for further research, as well as contact information.

Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro statement called the current transition of administrations an 'absolutely unique time.' It is the first hand-off of executive responsibility since the terrorist attacks of 2001 and comes at a time when the nation is battling two wars and a financial crisis.

'GAO has combed through all of our recent work to help identify where our work can help address urgent challenges facing the nation now, to assist new appointees in every agency zero in on the challenges of that particular agency, and to help identify areas with the potential to save the nation billions of dollars,' Dodaro said.

GAO was specifically named as a resource for incoming administrations in the Presidential Transition Act of 2000.

The issues identified as urgent by GAO are:
  • Caring for military service members.
  • Defense readiness.
  • Defense spending.
  • Food safety.
  • Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Oversight of financial institutions and markets.
  • Preparing for large-scale health emergencies.
  • Protecting the homeland.
  • Public diplomacy and international broadcasting.
  • Retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet.
  • Surface transportation.
  • The 2010 Census.
  • Transition to digital TV
The decennial census is a mammoth undertaking that affects congressional districting and the allocation of $300 billion a year in federal aid to state and local government. 'Soon after taking office, the new administration will need to address the significant management and technology challenges facing this complex and costly effort,' the GAO said. 'Early in 2009, the first nationwide field operation of the 2010 Census ' address canvassing ' is scheduled to begin. During this operation, the Census Bureau will rely, for the first time, on hand-held computers to verify address and map information.'

GAO last year identified the census as a high risk area because of challenges in IT management. 'The Census Bureau is strengthening its oversight of IT management activities, and a limited field test of the hand-held computers is scheduled for December 2008,' GAO said. 'Importantly, there will be little time for refinements if performance problems persist.'

GAO said that Census needs to make sure that all IT systems are fully tested and improve the reliability of cost estimates for the program.

The Homeland Security Department needs to strengthen the security of the nation's cyber and other critical infrastructure, GAO said, and improve information sharing among the intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities.

The digital TV transition set for February represents a major shift in the allocation of the nation's broadcast spectrum as well as a challenge to a critical communications infrastructure. On the technical side of this, GAO said the Federal Communications Commission needs to work with broadcasters to resolve any outstanding technical and coordination issues for the transition.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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