How to Enhance Congressional Oversight

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-05-08.

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

                   United   States Gkneral Accounting   OBRce 09        3//

 For Release       How to Enhance       Congressional     Oversight,
 on Delivery
 Expected at
 May 8, 1990
 9:30 a.m. EDT

                   Statement of
                   Richard L. Fogel,  Assistant          Comptroller          General
                   General Government Division
                   Before the
                   Senate Committee on Banking
                   Subcommittee  on HUD/Mod Rehab Investigations


-%AO/T-GGD-90-40                                                       GAO Form 160 (12/87)
Mr.       Chairman         and Members               of        the    Subcommittee

I am pleased               to be here            today           to discuss              how congressional
oversight             of   federal           agencies            and programs                  can be enhanced.

Diligent         congressional                  oversight              of executive                agencies            and
programs           can greatly             enhance              program           operations            by focusing              on
program        and policy              implementation.                        All      too      often        the      focus      in
the       executive         branch         and Congress                     is on policy            development.
Executive           branch          officials             are        seldom          selected       because            of     their
managerial             backgrounds,              and during                  their       generally             short         tenures-
-averaging             about        2 years--         they           tend     to measure            their           success           by
the      policies          they      develop          rather           than          by how well             they      are
carried        out.         Few direct               their           energies          to the management                      issues
facing        their        agencies.             At the              same time,           congressional                   attention
also       is often         on the        development                  of     legislation.                   Congressional
oversight           of     implementation                    issues          often       occurs         only        when things
have       reached         crisis        proportions.

More attention                 needs      to be given                  to basic           management                 issues
facing       our       program         agencies.                 The serious              problems             our
government             faces        today,       including                  the     breakdown           in     internal
controls         at the           Department              of     Housing            and Urban           Development,                  the
crises        in the        savings            and loan              industry          and in our              nation's
nuclear        production              facilities,                   and the          rising      costs         we face          to
modernize           our     air      traffic          control               system,       arose         in part           from        our
failure        to pay adequate                   attention                  to the       nuts-and-bolts                 issues             of
.   .

          managing           our     government's            programs        effectively           and preparing
          adequately           for     the    future.


        . All     too     often,       GAO's audits            detect        continuing           management               control
          weaknesses           which
                                   were previously    identified     in our reports                                             and
          those       of Congress;   Inspectors    General,    and the agencies
          themselves.                How often        have     those       reports          been systematically
          analyzed         and used as a basis                   for      developing          plans     to     improve
          agency         operations?

          Major       breakdowns          in management                controls        will     continue            to plague
          us until         we give       sustained            attention           to ensuring          that     the
          agencies         have the          (1)   necessary             mission       planning        systems             to
          provide         organizational              direction;            (2) modern          and accurate
          financial           and management             information              systems       to monitor
          operations;              (3) effective             evaluation           efforts       to assess            the
          efficiency           and effectiveness                 of programs;               and (4) dynamic                 human
          resources           programs        which      not     only      recruit          and develop         the
          talented         workers       who are         the     key to any effective                   organization,
          but     also     have good mechanisms                    for     holding          managers     accountable
          for     results.            Over the        past     decade,        HUD experienced                 problems            in
          all     these       areas     which      contributed             to the       fraud     and waste            found           in
          the     co-insurance,              home financing,               and moderate            rehabilitation
          programs,           and the breakdown                 in financial            and fiscal            controls            over
          Federal         Housing       Administration                 (FHA) funds.

  What are some of the key elements                                       of good congressional
  oversight?              First,          it      is    important              for      Congress           to engage         in a
  continuing            dialogue               with     agency         political              leadership      over the
. future       course           of the          agency.           This      dialogue               is essential   to
  forming         the basic           consensus                over      agency           goals          which    is critical
  for     effective             agency          operations.               Those           agencies          which      operate
  with     conflicting              mandates             often         experience                serious         management
  problems.            For example,                    since      the     creation               of the General              Service
  Administration,                  there         have been conflicting                             views     on the best
  ways to provide                  the government's                     housekeeping                 services.             Some        see

  GSA's mission                 as one of setting                      policy           and overseeing               the
  operations           of the        executive                 branch      agencies.                 Others         have
  asserted         that         GSA can achieve                   the     greatest               efficiencies            through
  controlled           operations                in the         areas      of common item                    procurement,
  space      control,            and surplus               property             transfers.                 These conflicting
  views      have never             been resolved,                     resulting              in continuing              criticism
  of GSA's performance                          from     Congress          and the               federal         agencies.

  Second,         as problems              with         program          implementation                    are    identified,
 Congress          needs         to insist              that     agency              officials            develop      plans       and
  time     tables         for      correcting              the        problems.               Congress           needs     to
  evaluate         closely          the         adequacy         of      the         plans       prior      to accepting
  them.        Once the            plans         have been accepted,                          the authorizing                and
  appropriation                 committees              need to support                      the    accomplishment                of
  the     plans       through        realistic                 funding          decisions.                 Moreover,         it
  should       be easier            to support                 agency      funding               decisions          to solve

agency        management           problems                 if      they         are made within            the       framework
of an overall               plan       for      the         agency.

Third,        Congress         needs           to make it                  clear     to agency          officials            that
they      will    be held          accountable                     for      taking      effective           corrective
actions.          Agency progress                         must       be monitored              on a continuing                basis
to ensure         that       resources                   are being           used appropriately,                      milestones
are      being    met,       and agency                   plans           remain     realistic.             The agencies
must be convinced                  that         they         will          not     be able        to just       appear        at
one or two hearings,                         report              on progress,           answer        several
questions,           and go their                   own way.

The struggle             to improve                 program               management         is often          a long,
difficult,           and thankless                       task,       but     Congress          needs to persevere                   in
its      oversight          efforts.                It      is      inevitable          that       there       will     be
times        when there         will          be significant                       disagreements            in objectives
and approaches               between            the Congress                      and the executive               branch.
These must be worked                         through.                Likewise,          there       will       be other
areas        in which        there           will         be disagreements                 within          Congress          on the
appropriate           direction               of         federal           programs,         and these          must be
reconciled           as best           as possible.                        And there       may be charges                 that
Congress         is trying             to micro-manage                       agencies.             But effective,
persistent           oversight,               designed               to hold         agency        officials
accountable           for      carrying              out          their      own plans            is not       micro-

    GAO will            continue          to assist           the Congress                 in its      oversight
    efforts.                Through       our     program        results            reviews,          we will         continue
    to provide               Congress           with      reliable          information    on how agency
    programs           are carried               out.        Through         consultations    with
    congressional                   committees,            we will          continue              to plan     our work           so
    that       we can provide                  our      evaluations            in a timely             manner.            Our
    goal       is to develop                  strategic        work         plans         in all      our     issue       areas
    that       will         reflect       the     key issues            and concerns                 of the      Congress.
    That       way the             information            we provide           can be most             useful         in the
    legislative                process.           Constant           dialogue            between       us and the
    committees               is thus          essential         is we are               to be responsive.

    Our work at HUD demonstrates                                the     role        congressional               concerns          play
    in our work plans.                         Consistent            with      congressional                 interest,           we
    are    placing            more      emphasis           on a range              of    issues       surrounding
    housing           for         the elderly,            including          the        need for       improved
    integration                of housing              and health           care        services       for     the       low-
    income        elderly.              Our work           on the       impacts            of making          changes           to the
    criteria           used by the               Federal       Fousing             Administration               to insure
    single        family            housing       loans       responds             to congressional                  interest         in
    receiving               our analysis             of    strategies           such as easing                 down payment
    requirements,                   raising       FHA loan           ceiling            limits,       and making
    flexible           interest           rate       mortgages          more available.                      We are       also
    surveying               the     adequacy           of HUD's oversight                   of the modernization
    program           for     public          housing       in recognition                  of congressional
concerns        relating         to the          controls          over     the more than              $1.5        billion
annually        appropriated              to this         program.

We will       continue          to urge          the     passage          of comprehensive                  financial
management           reform      legislation.                Developing            modern       information
systems       capable          of providing              accurate          information          to
congressional            and executive                  branch      policymakers              is fundamental                   to
effective           program      management              and oversight.

Finally,        we shall         continue          doing         agency      general      management
reviews       (GMRs).           These         reports       provide         both      Congress         and the
executive           branch      with      the     basis      for     a viable          agenda for
addressing           agency management                   weaknesses          in the      context             of
achieving           program      objectives.                Agency        leaders       have found                that        the
GMR reports           can help          get      the     commitment          necessary          within            their
agency       bureaucracies              and within           Congress         to address             difficult
management           issues.           Congress          has reacted           in an increasingly
positive       way to the              reports,          using      them to conduct              agency
oversight.            Some committees                   have specifically               asked agency
leaders       to report          on their          efforts         to address           our
recommendations.                 Others          have used the              reports      as a tool                for
understanding            agency         management           strategies            and needs.                To the
extent       that     Congress          and the          agency      leadership          can agree                in the
priority       management              efforts         needed,       the     chance      for     progress                is

That     concludes   my prepared   statement.   I would   be pleased   to
answer     any questions.                                        .