Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series: Responses to Questions

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

Washington, D.C. 20548


March 29,1999

The Honorable Dan Burton
Committee on Government Reform
House of Representatives

Subject: Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series: Responses to Questions

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Enclosed are responses to the questions that you, Ranking Minority Member Waxman, and
Congressman Mica provided to follow up on my testimony during your Committee’s
February 10,1999, hearing on our Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series.
Accordingly, we are also providing a copy of this letter to them. Continued improvement in
agencies’efforts to address major management challenges and high-risk areas is essential if
federal programs are to achieve their expected operating results in an economical and
efficient manner.

As agreed with your office, responses to two of your questions are being provided separately.
First, we will soon be sending to you a separate letter that discusses open recommendations
in high-risk areas. Second, our upcoming briefings to your office will present the results of
our analysis of the extent to which high-risk problems are dealt with in agency performance
I look forward to working with you on these and other issues in the future. If you have any
further questions or would like to discuss any of the issues in more detail, please call me at
(202) 512-5500;Gene Dodaro, Assistant Comptroller General, Accounting and Information
Management Division at (202) 512-2600;or Nancy Kingsbury,.Acting Assistant Comptroller
      ml, General Government Division, at (202) 512- 2700.

        y yours,

David M. Wall&r
Comptroller General
of the United States

Enclosure I

                             Responsesof David M. Walker
                        Comptroller General of The United States
                          to QuestionsFrom Chairman Burton

Failure to Resolve High-Risk Problems

1. Only one problem area has been removed from the GAO “high-risk” list since
     1995. Ten problem areas date back to the inception of the high-risk list in 1990.
     Do you have any general observationson why the Executive Branch has
     produced such poor results in resolving high-risk problems and what can be
     done to turn things around?

     In establishing our high-risk program in 1990, and in our periodic updates since then,
     we have focused on some of the largest and most complex problems facing our
     government. For the most part, these problems are deep-rooted, often a product of
     years of neglect, and have evolved over decades.They often involve large,
     decentralized organizations that are difficult to change. In part, it is a matter of
     changing organizational cultures and priorities and ensuring accountability for results.
     Such accountability must reside with top agency leadership and should be reinforced
     by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and congressional oversight.

     Identifying effective actions to addressthese long-standing problems represents a
     significant challenge. Fully implementing those actions can be even more difficult,
     and by their nature, will require longer-term efforts. Nonetheless, progress in some
     areas has been very slow. Further, while it is reasonable to expect that there should
     be demonstrable short-term improvements, we all too often have not seen them. The
     sustained attention and commitment of top leadership is key to ensuring that good
     plans are put in place to get at these high-risk problems and that tenacious follow-
     through on the difficult task of implementing actions in a detailed, comprehensive
     manner is completed. .Effectively managing an organization’s employees, or human
     capital, is an essential element of achieving needed improvements. These problems
     can be turned around but it will require a different level of commitment than has been
     exhibited in the past.

     In summary, many of the remaining high-risk areas were years in the making and will
     take time to resolve. There should, however, be continuous progress in addressing
     these challenges. Achieving lasting results will require the sustained involvement,
     commitment, and attention of top management; workable action plans; appropriate
     incentives; and ongoing accountability mechanisms.

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2. You report (GAO/RR-99-1, page 7) that for many high-risk areas, “agencies have
   agreed with GAO recommendationsbut have not yet fully implemented them.”
   Pleaseprovide for the record a chart showing for each high-risk area: all GAO
   recommendationsthat remain outstanding; how long each recommendation has
   been outstanding; and, to the best of GAO’s knowledge, why the
   recommendation has not been implemented.

   (See cover letter).

3. You also report (GAO/RR-99-1, page 7) that “many good plans have been
   conceived”by agenciesto deal with high-risk problems “but the more difficult
   implementation task of successfully translating those plans into day-to-day
   managementreality lies ahead.” Do you have any general observations on why
   agenciesare having such difficulty translating their plans into reality?

   Agencies are continuing to work on these high-risk areas, and are making some
   progress. But clearly, development of well-intentioned plans has all too often been
   followed by serious implementation shortfalls. In some cases, for example, agencies
   need to implement best practices. Our recommendations are aimed at root causes of
   problems and often involve building fundamental management and technical
   capabilities--which continues to be a serious problem. Understanding a problem and
   agreeing to actions that need to be taken requires sustained follow-through on the part
   of agency top leadership. Also, in a number of cases, legitimate priorities, including
   the need to promptly addresspressing Year 2000 computer issues, has required
   agencies to divert some of their attention and resources.

4. Pleaseprovide for the record a chart showing for each high-risk problem area:
   what specific plans agencieshave adopted to deal with the problem; what
   specific goals and measureseach plan contains and how the agency will be
   accountable for implementing them; whether these goals and measuresare part
   of the agency’sResults Act plans; and, from GAO’s perspective, what barriers
   exist to implementing the plan.

   (See cover letter).

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Failure to Resolve Even the Less Challenging High-Risk Areas

5. While many high-risk areas are complex and challenging, surely others should
   have been resolved by now. Two examples are NASA contract managementand
   managementof forfeited assetsby the Justice and Treasury Departments. Can
   you seeany acceptable reason why the responsible agencieshave allowed these
   two areasto languish on the high-risk list since 1990?

     We see no acceptable reason forthe long delays in completing remaining actions
     needed to remove these high-risk designations.

     For example, while NASA has completed many actions, it still has not begun to
     implement its integrated financial management system, which we have informed
     NASA is key to resolving the remaining problems in this high-risk area. Repeated
     slippages in the implementation schedule for this system continue to cause lingering
     uncertainties as to when this implementation will start. (See response to question 6.)
     Regarding seized assets, both Justice and Treasury continue to question efficiencies to
     be gained, and therefore do not have any plans for consolidating asset management
     and disposition functions, initially called for by the Congress in 1988, recommended
     by us in 1991, and called for again in a 1995 House Appropriations Committee report.
     We continue to believe that both departments should pursue consolidation options.
     (See responseto question 7.)

6. We understand from GAO that NASA has been on the verge of solving its
   problem for some time but can’t get over the top. What’s the holdup?

     Last July, we informed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
     that while it had developed plans for actions needed to remove the high-risk
     designation, our decision to do so would be based on a record of implementation.
     NASA is starting to build such a record. It is focusing, as it should be, on removing
     the uncertainty about the implementation schedule of its integrated financial
     management system. This system is key to fixing NASA’s problems, which include
     having decentralized nonintegrated systems with policies, procedures, and practices
     that are unique to its field centers. Initial implementation at two centers was recently
     delayed because the system’s contractor was having difficulty in integrating the
     software for the core financial and procurement systems. Agencywide implementation
     has now been delayed until June 1,200O. Accordingly, uncertainties about the
     software integration and implementation schedule of its financial management system
     make such removal of the high-risk designation premature at this time.

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7. According to GAO, one barrier to improving forfeited asset management is that
   Justice and Treasury refuse to work with each other in operating their similar
   forfeited asset funds. What can be done to get these agenciesto cooperate with
   each other? Will it take intervention by OMB or the President?

    Consolidating the management of seized assets could lead to improvements. For
    example, both the Departments of Justice and Treasury have contractors in the same
    geographical areas that manage the cars, boats, and other real property that have been
    seized by the U.S. Customs Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, etc.
    Efficiencies of scale could be realized if both departments used a single contractor.

    One aspect of the asset forfeiture problem is that both agencies have relatively new
    systems. These new systems continue to experience problems that both agencies are
    attempting to rectify. But both agencies continue to question the efficiencies to be
    gamed from consolidating management of seized assets. The departments’asset
    forfeiture officials, while acknowledging that management costs likely vary between
    contractors, have not committed any funds to determine whether savings are possible.
    The prudence of combining the management of these activities has not been reiterated
    by policy makers above the agency level. Intervention OMB, acting on behalf of the
    President, might be helpful.

Lack of Commitment or Incentives?

8. The persistence of the high-risk problems suggeststo me that agency heads may
   simply lack the interest or incentive to resolve them. Could this be a problem?

    Yes. Over time, the lack of top-level attention has been a problem. Sustained follow-
    through and accountability for results will be essential to achieving needed
    improvements in high-risk problem areas.

9. In your judgment, what can be done to provide agencieswith greater incentives
   and motivation to take action on their problems?

    First, continued congressional oversight is important. The work we have done under
    our high-risk program has served as the basis for numerous congressional hearings,
    which have helped in maintaining focus on these serious problems. Similarly, the
    executive branch’s setting of priorities is key. A number of recent actions are positive
    steps. For example, most of the 26 areas now on GAO’s high-risk list have been
    covered directly or indirectly by the Priority Management Objectives (PMOs)
    included in each of the President’s two most recent budget submissions. Also, the
    President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion is increasing the awarenessof the risks
    associated with and actions needed to address this problem. In the area of financial
    management, the President has also required certain agency heads to submit plans to
    OMB for correcting identified deficiencies. Finally, there must be accountability for
    results with department heads held responsible for resolving these problems in
    accordance with timetables agreed to with the Congress.

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10. Is there anything more that Congressneedsto do?

     The Congress needs to continue to conduct regular oversight over agencies and link
     resolution of these high-risk and other managementproblems to decisions made on
     appropriations and other legislation, as well as to other actions (such as Senate
     confirmations.) In other words, hold agencies and key leaders accountable. It should
     also track the progress being made in implementing major management reforms
     contained in legislation, including the Chief Financial Officers Act, the Clinger-Cohen
     Act, and the Government Performance and Results Act (Results Act). We anticipate
     that the information coming about from this legislative framework, as well as from our
     Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series, which we plan to continue to
     issue to each new incoming Congress, will be helpful in this regard.

Use of the Results Act

11. You point out that Congresshas equipped agencieswith a number of statutory
    tools to help them resolve their high-risk and other major management
    problems, one of the most important being the Government Performance and
    Results Act. However, information compiled for us by GAO indicates that few
    agencieshave adopted Results Act performance goals and measures that
    specifically target these problems.

      a. Do you agree that agenciesshould make specific commitments in their
         Results Act performance plans to deal with these problems?

          Annual performance plans are principally intended to focus on the results
          agencies’programs are intended to achieve and how progress toward these results
          will be measured. Nonetheless, setting goals for mission-critical management
          problems or other management-related issuesthat could significantly impede
          achievement of program goals should be an important part of an agency’s
          performance plan. Agencies should also identify strategies for resolving mission-
          critical management problems-either directly in their performance plans or by
          referring to other documents.

      b. Do you have any suggestionson how they can be encouraged to do this?

          A critical responsibility for improving agency management rests with the top
          agency leadership. Agency heads need to use the strategic and annual
          performance planning processes under the Results Act as vehicles to articulate
          their organization’s goals, performance measures,and strategies to address
          mission-critical management problems. The congressional confirmation process
          also provides an important opportunity for the Congress to ensure that the
          political leadership in the executive branch has the necessary commitment. OMB
          also has a key role in providing consistent attention to management issues as part
          of its budget and program reviews. The PMOs that OMB has included in the

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       governmentwide performance plans for fiscal years 1999 and 2000 have
       highlighted the major management issues that will receive the administration’s
       priority attention. Fully integrating these objectives into agency performance
       planning will provide a basis for subsequent accountability. Congressional use of
       the Results Act in oversight and in helping to make appropriation, authorization,
       and budget decisions will further foster agencies’attention to management issues.

   c. Do you think the Results Act should be amended to require this?

        Initial implementation of the Results Act is still in progress, and agencies’first
        program performance reports are not due to the President and the Congress until
        March 3 1,200O. The work we have done to date on implementation of the
        Results Act has identified some barriers to fully achieving the goals of the Act,
        but those barriers are implementation, rather than statutory, issues. Until we
        have completed work on the full cycle of Results Act implementation it may be
        premature to consider statutory change. At that point, the need for statutory
        change may be more evident.

Relationship to NPR

12. The Administration’s NPR initiatives are designed to “reinvent government”
    and improve its performance. How is NPR being used to resolve the problem
    areas on the GAO high-risk list?

   The National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) and the high-risk
   program have somewhat different focuses. The high-risk program focuses on those
   government operations that our work has shown to be among the most vulnerable to
   waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. By contrast, one of NPR’s major focuses is
   now on 32 agencies-called “high-impact agencies”-that have a high degree of
   interaction with the public, business, or the operation of other federal agencies. This
   initiative is largely targeted at improving federal services to the public rather than at
   addressing problems on our high-risk list, such as high levels of delinquent debt
   associated with the Department of Agriculture’s farm loan programs.

   In its earlier phases, known as NPR I and II, NPR made recommendations in 1993
   and 1995, respectively, that addressed some, but not all, of the areas on our high-risk
   list. NPR I included recommendations to reinvent individual agencies’programs and
   organization, and also included governmentwide recommendations for reducing the
   size of the federal bureaucracy, reducing procurement costs through streamlining, and
   reengineering processes through the better use of information technology. NPR II
   efforts focused on identifying additional programs that could be reinvented,
   terminated, or privatized and reinventing the federal regulatory process. While NPR
   touched upon a wide range of issues in need of improvement, many critical
   management issues, such as Department of Defense inventory management and
   weapon systems acquisition, were not a focus of those efforts.

                                              GAO/OCG-99-25R Perfonnauce and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure I

13. What specific NPR actions addresswhat specific high-risk areas?

     Making case-by-case assessmentsabout whether specific NPR actions address
     specific high-risk areas can be difficult becausesome of NPR’s recommendations are
     very broad. For example, NPR recommendedthat the Department of Education
     improve debt collection by implementing a “new and aggressive default management
     strategy.” It is unclear whether, or the extent to which, this recommendation would
     directly address the specific concerns we have identified about Education’s student
     financial aid programs, such as its information management systems’often lack
     accurate, complete, and timely data for managing and overseeing these programs.
     Clarifying recommendations like this one would require researching the assumptions
     made about what the recommendation was intended to accomplish and conducting
     extensive work in agencies-which we have not done-to determine the specific
     actions taken under NPR.

     In certain cases, however, the relationship between specific NPR recommendations
     and our high-risk areas is easier to determine. For example, since 1990 we have
     identified Internal Revenue Service (IRS) receivables, Department of Energy contract
     management, and Medicare as high-risk areasand NPR has made recommendations
     related to these areas. The NPR recommendations were to “increase IRS collections
     through better compliance efforts,” “improve environmental contract management,”
     and “strengthen Medicare program integrity.”

Role of OMB

14. Is OMB providing enough leadership, guidance, and support to agenciesto help
   them resolve their high-risk problems?’

     OMB has provided leadership, guidance, and support in several ways.

     As part of the President’s two most recent budget submissions, OMB has established
     a number of PMOs indicating the administration’s intent to focus on some of the
     biggest management problems facing executive agencies. The budget submission for
     fiscal year 2000 identified 24 PMOs, half of which encompass areas that cut across
     agency lines, and half of which are specific to a single agency. OMB is to coordinate
     efforts to ensure that these PMOs receive senior management attention.

      A number of the most recently announcedPMOs closely align with areas that have
      been designated by GAO as high-risk. For example, three PMOs-(1) the Year 2000
      (Y2K) computer problem, (2) protecting critical information infrastructure, and
      (3) improving financial management information-align with three issues that head
      the latest update to our list of high-risk areas. Overall, nearly all the PMOs in the
      recent budget relate, directly or indirectly, to areas on our high-risk list, including
      areas involving specific agency programs such as those at the Department of Housing
      and Urban Development (HUD), contract management at the Department of Energy,
      and student financial aid at the Department of Education.

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    OMB also works with groups such as the Chief Financial Officers Council and the
    Chief Information Officers Council to address governmentwide financial
    management and information technology issues. Lastly, in its role in the budget
    process, OMB has the continuing responsibility to see that agencies are directing the
    necessary resources and have sound strategies in place to eliminate the high-risk and
    other major management challenges facing agencies today.

15. What more could OMIT do?

    OMB needs to demonstrate that addressing long-standing management weaknesses
    across the executive branch remains a top priority and to work with agencies to ensure
    that needed corrective actions are implemented. Success on this front will be realized
    only through a sustained effort on the part of senior management within both agencies
    and OMB. In the financial management arena, for example, OMB must foster full
    implementation of evolving accounting standards and other requirements, with the
    ultimate objective of agencies having, on a routine basis, the kinds of financial
    management information needed to manage agency programs with efficiency and
    effectiveness while delivering intended results.

    Also, moving agencies toward more performance-based management, as called for by
    the Results Act, is important. This includes agencies better defining program goals
    and measures, aligning activities to meet demands, rationalizing crosscutting efforts,
    establishing performance partnerships, and developing and using performance

Cost of High-Risk Problems

16. You report (GAO/HR-99-1, page 7) that, collectively, the high-risk problems
   “affect almost all of the government’s annual $1.7 trillion in revenue,” and that
   solving these problems “offer[s] the potential to save billions of dollars.” I know
   that it is impossible to determine exactly how much these problems cost
   American taxpayers each year. However, to the extent they are available, please
   provide specific estimatesof the dollar lossesand other costs associated with the
   high-risk areas, individually and collectively.

    In certain individual areas, dollar estimates have been made. For example, beginning
    with the financial statement audit for fiscal year 1996 and continuing for fiscal years
    1997 and 1998, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector
    General has developed estimates of the amount of improper Medicare payments.
    Those estimates were $23.2 billion for fiscal year 1996, $20.3 billion for fiscal year
    1997, and $12.6 billion for fiscal year 1998.

     Estimates of overpayments have also been made for the Social Security
     Administration’s (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. For fiscal
     year 1998, $1.2 billion in new overpayments were detected and as of the end of fiscal

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      year 1998, current and former recipients owed a total of $3.3 billion in overpayments
      to SSA.

      Many high-risk areas, such as Defense Infrastructure, estimated by the Department of
      Defense (DOD) to involve about $147 billion for fiscal year 1998, or troubled
      information technology initiatives (with tens of billions of dollars in annual outlays),
      involve large dollar amounts. Correcting problems in these areas also offers the
      potential for efficiencies that can free up dollars for other priorities. However, for
      many high-risk areas involving large dollar amounts, no reliable estimates exist of
      the continuing cost consequences.

Consultations on the High-risk List

17. I applaud your commitment to continue GAO’s high-risk list. As you know, we
    regard the high-risk list an important means of holding agenciesaccountable
    and a useful barometer on the general state of management in the federal
    government. I understand that GAO still plans to refine how it determines and
    presentshigh-risk areas. Can we have your commitment to actively consult with
    Congresson these issues?
      Yes. As stated in the recent update to our High-Risk Series, an increasing amount of
      information is becoming available as a result of implementing various federal
      managementreform initiatives, such as the Results Act and the Chief Financial
      Officers Act. This information makes it possible and appropriate to periodically
      reassessthe methodologies and criteria used to determine which operations,
      functions, and entities are considered high-risk. GAO plans to undertake a
      comprehensive review and reassessment of this area, employing matrix management
      and other concepts, for use in our next update report, scheduled for 2001. In
      conducting this review and reassessment, and consistent with our normal practices,
      we will consult with key stakeholders, including congressional and agency
      representatives,before finalizing our approach.

      This effort will likely result in new ways of determining and presenting risk,
      especially in connection with selected functions (e.g., strategic planning,
      organizational alignment, human capital strategies, and contract management) as well
      as at the overall department and agency level. At the same time, the ultimate
      determination of what is considered “high-risk” will continue to involve the
      independent, professional, and objective judgement of GAO professionals.

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Need for More Performance-Based Management

18. Instilling performance-based management in agenciesis key to resolving their
    high-risk and other major problems. However, you report (GAO/OCG-99-1,
    page 26) that progress by agenciesin becoming performance-based “has been
    uneven across agencies”and that “[a] primary difference in the rate of progress
    is the degree of attention, visibility, and commitment that top agency leadership
    gives this area.”

     a. Specifically, which agenciesare making the most progress in becoming
        performance-based and which are making the least progress?

        Overall summary statements of the degree to which agencies are becoming
        performance-based are difficult and must be made with great caution because
        while an agency may be a leader in one area (for example, financial management
        or the use of information technology. to achieve programmatic results), it may lag
        in others (for example, implementation of the Results Act or the quality of its
        human capital initiatives).

        In terms of adopting an effective results-orientation, a number of the agencies are
        making good progress in setting results-oriented goals, developing performance
        measures to show progress, and changing the way they do business to better meet
        their goals. For example, we have reported on the notable efforts being made by
        the Department of Transportation’s Coast Guard and National Highway Traffic
        Safety Administration, the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and
        Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services’
        Office of Child Support Enforcement, and the Federal Emergency Management
        Agency, among others.

        Further, a number of agencies have taken their financial management and
        reporting improvement efforts a step further and are preparing accountability
        reports. These accountability reports respond to several legislatively mandated
        reporting requirements in one package, and they also provide a discussion of the
        context in which to consider or interpret the information reported. For example,
        SSA has been one of the leaders in developing an accountability report that
        discusses how the results reported reflect agency operations and the status of its
        financial management.

     b. Can you name some agency leaders who are providing the kind of attention,
        visibility, and commitment to performance-based management that you

        Generally, the political and career leadership in the agencies noted above as
        making progress in becoming more performance-based are among those making a
        commitment to performance-based management. In addition, IRS Commissioner

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         Rossotti has made a major commitment to this issue as part of his overall
         reorganization plan.

      c. Can you offer some specific examples of what they are doing that their
         counterparts in other agenciesmight want to emulate?

         Different agencies are taking different steps. As discussed in our 1996 Executive
         Guide on Results Act implementation, we have identified four practices that
         leaders use to create high performing organizations.’ Successful leaders

                  (1) devolve operational decisionmaking to line managersand hold them
                       accountable for results;
                  (2) ensure that incentives and performance managementprocessesare in
                      place to create organizational incentives and reward team and
                       individual contributions to agency goals;
                  (3) adopt a strategic approach to human capital issues and ensure that
                       staff are in place with the skills, expertise, and capabilities needed to
                       achieve results; and
                  (4) lead by example by ensuring that management reforms are integrated
                       and are improving performance. Successful leaders in high
                       performing organizations ensure that performance-basedmanagement
                       is the way the organization does business and does not become the
                      ‘latest “management fad.”

Duplication and overlap

19. Your recent reports detail widespread program fragmentation, duplication and
    overlap cutting across agency lines. GAO found that crosscutting federal
    programs efforts are not well coordinated. You report (GAO/OCG-99-1,page
    12) that “[i]n program area after program area, we found that unfocused and
    uncoordinated crosscutting programs waste scarce funds, confuseand frustrate
    taxpayers and other program customers, and limit overall program

      a. Are agenciesdoing enough to address these coordination problems through
         their Results Act plans?

          We are examining the agencies’fiscal year 2000 performance plans, in part, to
          determine the degree to which agencies have made progress over the last year.
          Our reviews of agencies’fiscal year 1997 strategic plans and fiscal year 1999
          annual performance plans suggested that agencies had begun the difficult process
          of ensuring crosscutting programs that contribute to the same or similar result are
          properly coordinated. For example, many agencies’fiscal year 1999 annual plans
          identified crosscutting efforts, and some listed other agencieswith which they

 ‘Executive Guide: Effectively   Implementine   the Government   Performance and Results Act   (GAO/GGD-
 96-118, June 1996).

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        shared the same or similar results. However, we also found that the substantive
        work of coordination was not yet apparent. Specifically, few of the plans showed
        evidence of the work necessary to ensure that crosscutting programs have
        mutually reinforcing goals, complementary strategies, and, as appropriate,
        common performance measures. Not surprisingly given the amount of
        coordination that still needs to take place, our review of the fiscal year 1999
        governmentwide performance plan found that substantial opportunities exist for
        enhancing the discussion of crosscutting efforts in that plan as well.

     b. If not, what other steps could they take to improve interagency coordination
        and reduce duplication and overlap?

        A number of steps appear to be particularly important, including the following

        (1) Agencies with responsibility for similar national issues need to be identified.
        (2) Complementary performance goals need to be developed that show how the
            efforts of different agencies will come together to achieve results.
        (3) Intermediate goals that clarify the agency’s specific contribution to the
            common result need to be established.
        (4) Approaches to coordinate efforts with other agencies to ensure that strategies
            are complementary need to be developed.
        (5) Individual annual performance plans need to reference relevant interagency
            coordination efforts.

        Finally, because of the still early state of coordination of crosscutting programs,
        plans that describe an agency’s coordination efforts can provide a base of
        ‘lessons learned” for other agencies to consider.

20. OMB has shown little if any interest in providing leadership, guidance, and
    support to agenciesin this area. OMB also seemsunwilling to use Results Act
    plans (even the government-wide performance plan) as a vehicle for addressing
    duplication and fragmentation issues.

     a. Do you believe the Results Act should be amendedto explicitly require
        attention to the subject of cross-cutting programs?

        The work we have done on crosscutting programs indicates that identification of
        program fragmentation, duplication and overlap is difficult. Further, determining
        how to addresscrosscutting program issues poses an even greater challenge
        because they involve discussions and consultations outside of agencies’normal
        communications channels. Our work looking at interagency coordination
        mechanisms is a first step in attempting to learn what potential solutions can
        overcome barriers to dealing with crosscutting program issues.

     b. Do you believe amendments to the Results Act and/or other legislative
        changesare needed to require OMB to deal with these issues?

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         Initial implementation of the Results Act is still in progress, and agencies’first
         program performance reports are not due to the President and the Congress until
         March 3 1,200O. The work we have done to date on implementation of the
         Results Act has identified some barriers to fully achieving the goals of the Act,
         but those barriers are implementation, rather than statutory, issues. Until we have
         completed work on the full cycle of Results Act implementation it may be
         premature to consider statutory change. At that point, the need for statutory
         change may be more evident.

      c. What other steps can be taken to encourageagenciesand OMB to improve
         coordination of cross-cutting programs and reduce unnecessary overlap,
         fragmentation, and inconsistenciesamong programs?

         To focus attention and promote accountability in addressing governmentwide
         performance concerns, OMB can analyze crosscutting program design,
         implementation, and organizational issues as part of the budget process. In
         addition, we have recommended that OMB do the following:

         (1) Ensure that agencies incorporate appropriate goals and strategies in their
             annual performance plans and describe their relevance to achieving objectives
             described in the governmentwide performance plan.
         (2) Present a more cohesive picture of federal missions in the governmentwide
             plan by broadening discussions beyond those of specific budget functional
             categories where necessaryto capture the full range of government players
             and activities aimed at advancing broad federal goals2

         The Congress also has a key role to play by maintaining its oversight of the
         federal government’s implementation of the Results Act, including the
         coordination of crosscutting programs. One way that the Congress could
         demonstrate the importance it places on this coordination is to hold hearings that
         include testimony from all relevant partners of a crosscutting area. For example,
         on March 16, 1999, the SenateCommittee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Senate
         Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Related Agencies held a
         joint hearing on the roles and preparednessof HHS and the Department of
         Veterans Affairs to react to a domestic chemical or biological weapons attack.
         Witnesses included representativesfrom HHS, the Department of Veterans
          Affairs, GAO, the Rockefeller University, the Johns Hopkins University, and the
          BioPort Corporation.

 *The Results Act: Assessment of the Governmentwide Performance Plan for Fiscal Year
 1999 (GAO/AJMD/GGD-98159, Sept. 8,1998).

 14                                             GAOIOCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability   and High-Risk Series
Enclosure I

21. Duplication, fragmentation, and overlap often are rooted in program statutes
    themselves. As was discussed at the hearing, however, a variety of political
    factors pose barriers to statutory reforms. One proposal to overcome these
    barriers is the creation of a ‘BRAC” (Base Realignment and Closure
    Commission) type government restructuring commission that would examine
    areas of duplication and fragmentation and then submit a comprehensive
    package of legislative recommendations for Congressto vote up or down.

     a. What do you think of this proposal in concept?

        We believe that eliminating excess military capacity and addressing mission
        fragmentation and program overlap are conceptually two different problems
        requiring different solutions. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission
        was established because the Congress, the administration, and the Department of
        Defense were in agreement that military operations would be more efficient if
        excess capacity were eliminated and savings generated from this action were
        channeled to other uses. Once agreement was reached on the nature of the
        problem and its solution, the Commission was set up to implement politically
        difficult decisions.

        Decisions on how to address mission fragmentation and program overlap are
        varied, multidimensional, and complex. As a result, reaching consensus on
        whether a problem exists, the nature of that problem, or its solution will be much
        more difficult to achieve. Even when all parties agree that fragmentation and
        overlap exist, elimination of agency programs and activities is not always the
        clear policy choice. As noted in a House Government Reform and Oversight
        Committee report, “A certain amount of redundancy is understandable and can be
        beneficial if it occurs by design as part of a management strategy to foster
        competition, provide better service delivery to customer groups, or provide
        emergency backup.“3 Our products provide examples of those types of
        crosscutting programs. For example, although the decentralized structure of
        federal statistical agencies has been cited as inefficient and contributing to data
        quality problems, the potential advantages of consolidation must be weighed
        against other concerns. These concerns include issues such as the potential for
        abuse and breaches of confidentiality that could occur if extensive data about
        individuals and businesses were concentrated in one agency.4 As this illustrates,
        these considerations are complex and may require varied expertise, and therefore
        a single commission may not be appropriate.

3H. Rpt. No. 104-861, p. 6.
4Statistical Agencies: Consolidation and Oualitv Issues (GAO/T-GGD-97-78, Apr. 9,

15                                            GAO/OCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure I

   b. Do you have any suggestions as to the specifics of such a commission

        Although a single commission may not be appropriate for making the complex
        decisions required to address mission fragmentation and program overlap, we
        have identified some useful principles to consider regarding proposals to
        reorganize federal government programs and operations.5 These include the

        l           Reorganization demands an integrated approach. The interconnectednessof
                    federal structures and activities should not be underestimated.
                    Reorganizations that do not consider the broader picture could create,
                    unintended consequences;
        l           Reorganization plans should be designed to achieve specific, identifiable
                    goals. Reorganization efforts are better served if specific goals are identified.
                    Even if decisionmakers find it difficult to reach a shared understanding of
                    goals, certain overarching goals should be kept in mind. These include the
                    need to create a structure that operates efficiently, economically, flexibly, and
                    in a business-like manner with full accountability.
            l       Once the goals are identified, the right vehicle(s) must be chosen for
                    accomplishing them. Deliberations on government reorganization often
                    include a discussion on the role of the federal government and how that role,
                    if any, should be exercised.
            l        Implementation (follow-through) is critical to the success of any
                     reorganization. No matter what decisions are made about how to reorganize a
                     function, fulfilling the promise of any new plan will depend on its
                     implementation. Employing effective change management techniques will be
                     key to achieving success in this area. Assessing implementation will require
                     that agencies have the basic program and financial information needed to
                     gauge progress, improve performance, and establish accountability.
                l    Oversight is needed to ensure effective implementation. The process of
                     reorganizing government should not stop when a plan is adopted. It is
                     important that the Congress continue to play a significant role in both its
                      legislative and oversight capacities to establish, monitor, and maintain
                      government management reforms.

      c. Do you have any other suggestions about how the Administration and
         Congressshould address statutory reforms, particularly in light of the “turf”
         and other political issues?

                Although the Results Act cannot provide easy solutions to contentious policy
                issues concerning crosscutting program efforts, it does provide a framework that
                the administration and the Congress can use to address mission fragmentation and

 5Government Reorganization: Issues and Principles (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-95-166,
 May 17,1995).

 16                                                     GAO/OCG-99-25R Perfomance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure I

        program overlap. If successfully implemented, the act should lead to an ongoing
        dialogue between the administration and the Congress. This dialogue can help
        identify crosscutting program efforts where a consensus exists on how to address
        fragmentation and overlap. This consensus may lead to new approaches for
        interagency coordination or statutory reforms that consolidate, streamline, or
        eliminate federal programs. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which
        addressedthe confusing array of employment training programs by establishing
        three funding streams for the training needs of youth, adults, and dislocated
        workers, is a recent example of the administration and the Congress reaching
        consensus about the appropriate response to a crosscutting program effort.

        The Congress can use performance information to better inform policy debate and
        program oversight. This performance information would be of even greater
        benefit if congressional committees used it to concentrate attention on program
        oversight across agencies,rather than on the programs and activities of individual
        agencies. For example, performance information can help identify the
        performance and cost consequencesof program fragmentation and the
        implications of alternative policy and service delivery options.

Greater reliance on the private sector

22. Many aspectsof managementreform that amount to severe “culture change” for
    the Federal Government are secondnature for the private sector. These include
    results-oriented strategic planning and performance accountability, insistence
    upon reliable financial reporting, making effective use of modern information
    technology, and restructuring outmoded or inefficient organizations.

     a. Do you agree that the Federal Government can do much more to apply
        private sector thinking and techniques to many of its major management

        Yes, for many activities we believe that the federal government can benefit
        greatly by learning from, benchmarking against, and/or competing with the
        private sector. The private sector has been an engine of innovation in this
        country, and government will always have much to gain from taking advantage of
        successful concepts that originate there.

     b. For example, I understand many banks and real estate companies have
        systemsdesigned specifically to track mortgage information and the status of
        properties. Has HUD looked at that at all?

        In October 1996,.we reported that HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
        was planning to use existing information technology to facilitate some
        streamlining of single family housing operations and staff reduction initiatives6

‘Information Technology: Streamlining FHA’s Single Family HousinP Operations
(GAO/AI&ID-97-4, Oct. 17, 1996).

17                                           GAO/OCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure I

         At that time, FHA planned to incorporate information technology initiatives that
         were similar to, but not as extensive as, those used by other mortgage industry
         organizations to improve productivity. We also reported that further
         improvements could be achieved if FHA adopted other automated capabilities
         used by these organizations. For example, some organizations with more capable
         systems were able to process a similar volume of loans with about one-fifth of the
         staff planned for FHA’s streamlined loan processing operations. We have not
         performed additional work on this issue.

      c. What suggestionscan you offer on how we can go about doing this?

         The congressional oversight process can be an effective vehicle to ensure that
         agencies are learning “best in the business” management practices from one
         another, other governments, and the private sector. OMB, interagency councils
         and the NPR, because of their governmentwide perspectives, can also provide
         valuable information to agencies as they seek to improve management.

      d. Are there specific areaswhere we could make greater use of contracting-out,
         privatization, public-private partnerships and similar mechanisms to take
         advantage of private sector capacity and expertise?

         We have has consistently supported the concept of encouraging competition
         between government and contractor workforces in the provision of commercial
         services, and enactment last year of the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act
         (FAIR) of 1998 is a long-needed congressional endorsement of the concept. The
         principal reform instituted by the FAIR legislation- the requirement that agencies
         create an inventory of commercial activities that are candidates for contracting out
         to the private sector- is consistent with one of the key issues identified in our
         1997 report on privatization? While certain functions are inherently governmental
         and should be performed by government employees, competition based on cost,
         quality, and effectiveness should govern whether the private sector or the
         government perform other functions. Our report issued last month on public-
         private partnerships describes some of the conditions that promote effective
         cooperation between government agencies and private sector partners in
         providing real estate services.’

 7Privatization: Lessons Learned by State and Local Governments (GAO/GGD-97-48,
 Mar. 14,1997).
 ‘Public-Private Partnerships: Kev Elements of Federal Building and Facilitv Partnership
 (GAO/GGD-99-23, Feb. 3,1999).-

 1X                                            GAO/OCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability   and High-Risk Series
Enclosure II

                                  Responsesof David M. Walker
                              Comptroller General of the United States
                          to Questions From Representative John L. Mica

HUD on “High Risk” List

1. Mr. Walker, you listed the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development as
   “high risk.” The entire department. There are no other entire departments on the list. I
   understand that Secretary Cuomo is eager to get HUD off the list and that he has initiated
   the 2020 Management Reform Plan with that goal in mind. Will Secretary Cuomo be
   successfulin getting HUD off the risk list during his tenure? Based upon the work of GAO
   over the years, how long do you think it will be before HUD is off the “high risk” list? Are
   we talking two or three years, or a decade?

     It is difficult to predict when the department’s high-risk designation can be removed. The
     Department of Housing and urban Development (HUD) is making significant changes and has
     made credible progress since our last report in 1997 in laying the framework for improving its
     management. HUD’s Secretary and leadership team have given top priority to addressing the
     department’s management deficiencies. This top management attention is critical and must be
     sustained in order to achieve real and lasting change. Importantly, given the nature and extent of
     the challenges facing the department, it will take time to implement and assessthe impact of any
     related reforms.

     We have discussed our criteria for removing the high-risk designation with HUD officials on
     several occasions. We have pointed out that the programs and agencies from which we have
     removed our high-risk designation have demonstrated results in overcoming management
     deficiencies. We have further pointed out that plans for reform, while important, are not
     sufficient in and of themselves. Rather, the results of such plans are needed to demonstrate that
     management problems have been corrected. In addition, as discussed with HUD officials, the
     ultimate determination of what constitutes high-risk will continue to involve the independent,
     professional, and objective judgment of GAO professionals.

2. Mr. Walker, in July 1994 the National Academy of Public Administration issued a report
   entitled Renewing HUD: A Long-Term Agenda for Effective Performance. In the
   introduction it stated, “If, after five years, HUD is not operating under a clear legislative
   mandate and in an effective, accountable manner, the president and Congressshould
   seriously consider dismantling the department and moving its core functions elsewhere.”
   It is now almost five years since this report was issued, and the analysis of GAO and the
   OIG still identifies major, long-standing problems at HUD. In the opinion of the GAO,
   should the department be dismantled?

     In 1997, we issued a report on this issue entitled Housinn and Urban DeveIonment: Potential
     Implications of Legislation Proposing to Dismantle HUD (GAORCED-97-36, Feb. 2 1, 1997).
     Our report pointed out that dismantling a department as large as HUD would be a significant
     undertaking that would fundamentally change the federal role in housing and community

19                                             GAOIOCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure II

   development and could have far-reaching effects on renters, communities, and would-be home
   buyers. The states and federal agencies that would have received HUD’s functions under the
   legislative proposal being considered at that time generally believed they could assume
   additional programmatic and administrative responsibilities if they also received additional
   resources. However, several agencies cautioned us that dismantling HUD would adversely
   affect the delivery of services to clients and would eliminate the focus on housing and
   community development provided by a cabinet-level department. In addition, HUD is
   responsible for complex financial commitments that a resolution agency would need to
   administer and, in some cases, resolve. At the time of our review, these responsibilities included
    over $400 billion in loan insurance and approximately $464 billion in guaranteesof
   mortgage-backed securities. In either case, for credible progress to continue in improving the
    way HUD’s programs are managed, top management attention is critical and must be sustained
    in order to achieve real and lasting changes.

Human Resources Problems

3. Mr. Walker, human capital is listed in your testimony as one of the four broad areas where
   Federal Government management has to improve. The testimony described HUD’s human
   resources problems to illustrate the point.

   See answer to number 4.

4. Would you say that HUD’s human resourcesproblems are the worst in the Federal
   Government? If not, which department or agency has worse human resourcesproblems?
   How long does GAO believe it will be before human resourcesissuesat HUD are resolved?

      We did not compare HUD’s human resources problems to those of other federal agencies. Such
      a comparison would be difficult because of differences in agencies’functions, programs, and
      organizational structures. Our designation of HUD as a high-risk department was based on the
      existence of four serious, long-standing departmentwide management deficiencies that, taken
      together, place the integrity and accountability of HUD’s programs at high-risk. These
      deficiencies relate to internal controls, information and financial management systems,
      organizational structure, and staffing.

      It is difficult to estimate when HUD’s human resources problems will be resolved. Whether
      HUD has the right number of staff with the proper skills has been an issue of concern to us,
      HUD’s Inspector General, and others for a number of years. While reforms to addressthe
      department’s staffing problems are under way, our recent work indicates that these reforms are in
      the early stages of implementation, and it is too soon to tell whether they will resolve this
      deficiency.’ In our January 1999 report on HUD’s major management challenges and program
      risks, we pointed out that because staffing reforms and workload transfers from field offices to
       HUD’s new consolidated or centralized centers are still in progress, the effectiveness of HUD’s
       changes in correcting staffing deficiencies cannot be determined. In accordance with the Results

 ‘Maior Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Housing: and Urban
 Development (GAO/OCG-99-8, Jan. 1999).
 20                                            GAO/OCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure II

     Act, HUD needs to closely monitor the implementation of its staffing reforms to ensure that the
     field offices and staff have the resources and skills to carry out the work assigned, including the
     monitoring of programs and activities and the assessment of outcomes. We expect that our next
     Performance an Accountability and High-Risk Series, scheduled for 2001, will place more
     emphasis on human capital issues. This will enable us to provide additional information on
     HUD’s efforts and how they compare to those of other government agencies.

Fragmentation and Overlap Among Federal Programs

5. In your testimony there is a list of the areas in which there is fragmentation and overlap
   among Federal agenciesand programs. Included in this list are housing, community and
   economic developmentprograms. Can you specificaIly identify any of the agenciesor
   programs that overlap in those areas?

     We have issued two reports, one on homeownership and another on economic development, that
     relate to this issue--GAO/RCED-96-123, Aug. 13, 1996, and GAOLRCED-95251R, July 28,

     Our report on homeownership pointed out that at least 12 federal programs promote affordable
     homeownership through agencies such as HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the
     Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service.

     Our report on economic development pointed out that there are 342 programs related to
     economic development, most of which are administered by the Departments of Agriculture,
     Commerce, and Health and Human Services, HUD, and by the Small Business Administration.
     In addition, 13 of the 14 executive departments and many agencies and administrations have
     economic development programs.

Public Affairs Office

6. Mr. Walker, has GAO conducted an audit or investigation of the budget and expenditures
   of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs? If so, what have your findings

     We have not reviewed the budget and expenditures of the Department’s Office of Public Affairs.
     However, this office, which, among other things, advises the Secretary and HUD staff on public
     and media relations and coordinates efforts to keep the public informed of departmental actions,
     is expanding its coverage of electronic news resources. This expansion has created a need for
     additional contract funds.

21                                             GAO/OCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure III

                            Responsesof David M. Walker
                      Comptroller General of the United States
                to Questions From Ranking Minority Member Waxman

1. Mr. Walker, in your responseto a question from Mr. Ose you commented about
   having two sets of numbers for the census. In 1990 two sets of numbers were.
   used. One set of numbers, which included military and Federal civilian
   employeesstationed abroad and their dependents living with them, was used for
   apportionment. A second set, which did not include this population, was used
   for all other purposes.

      a. What work did GAO conduct on the impact of a two number censusin 1990?
         Has the GAO issued any reports on the results of its work: Do you have any
         evidencethat issuing two sets of numbers for the 1990 censuscaused

         We did not conduct any work assessing the impact of including the count of
         overseasmilitary and federal civilian employees in 1990 apportionment totals.

2. Given our experience with the Gulf War, when over a half a million people were
   moved overseasalmost overnight, would you recommend that the Census
   Bureau continue the practice of counting overseasmilitary personnel for
   apportionment purposes, but excluding them from all other counts?

      The question of whether to include overseas military and federal civilian employees
      in apportionment totals and/or other census tabulations is a policy decision on which
      we have not done relevant work. A Census Bureau official told us, however, that
      they plan on conducting the overseas enumeration of military personnel and federal
      civilian employees in 2000 the same way as in 1990. They will allocate this
      population by home state of residence on a state-level, rather than block-level, basis
      becausemilitary records are not available to provide precise block-level designations.
      Since the Bureau is limited to counting this population on a state-level basis, the
      Bureau official told us that the numbers will only be used for apportionment

 3. If in 2000 a complete censusunder the law results in one set of numbers for
    apportionment, and a second set for everything else, do you have any evidence to
    suggestthat would causeproblems?

      Our work on the adjustment question during the 1990 census raised a number of
      issues that are relevant for 2000. In 1990, the first set was the traditional head count
      produced by the statutory deadlines of December 31,1990, for state level counts and
      April 1, 1991, for more geographically detailed data. The second set of adjusted
      numbers attempted to compensate for the undercount and was reported in July 199 1.
      On July 15, 1991, after deliberating on whether to make a statistical adjustment to the

 22                                             GAOIOCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
Enclosure III

     1990 census using the second set of numbers, the Secretary of Commerce announced
     his decision not to adjust. In his decision, the Secretary noted there was general
     agreement that adjusted counts are more accurate than the census at the national level,
     but there was disagreementabout which set of numbers was more accurate at lower
     levels of geography.lo In March 1993, we testified that the 1990 strategy of
     producing two sets of numbers consumed considerable resources and planning
     efforts, affected the overall operation of the census, and provoked considerable
     controversy and litigation.” With barely a year’s time until Census Day 2000, the
     Bureau must quickly prepare for and implement plans to accomplish its commitment
     to produce two sets of numbers as accurately as possible and on schedule. We plan to
     review the Bureau’s final plan for the 2000 Census once it is issued.

     Other GAO work that addressesthe impact of the 1990 two number census includes a
     1991 report which discussedthe challenges the Bureau encountered in attempting to
     adjust the 1990 census, particularly its record matching operations12 and several
     reports on the impact of 1990 adjusted census data on federal funds distributions to


‘@FormulaPrograms: Adjusted Census Data Would Redistribute Small Percentage of
Funds to States (GAO/GGD-92-12, Nov. 7, 1991).
‘*Decennial Census: Fundamental Reform Jeopardized by Lack of Progress (GAO/T-
GGD-93-6, Mar. 2, 1993)
121990 Census Adiustment: Estimating Census Accuracy - A Complex Task
(GAO/GGD-91-42, Mar. 11, 1991).
13GAO/GGD-92-12, November 7, 1991and Formula Grants: Effects of Adiusted
Population Counts on Federal Funding: to States (GAO/HEHS-99-69, Feb. 26, 1999).

23                                            GAOIOCG-99-25R Performance and Accountability and High-Risk Series
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