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FCW : July 15, 2014
GAO 22 July 15, 2014 FCW.COM tive branch agencies, with much of that work focused on routine government operations. But large federal expendi- tures are under review, and billions of dollars in savings can potentially result from its recommendations. As GAO s director of IT manage- ment issues for the past 10 years, David Powner looks for savings in two broad areas: by streamlining or consolidating parts of the roughly $55 billion annual costs for federal legacy systems and by seeking greater ef ciencies in the $25 billion in IT acquisition, especially at large agencies. "We don t necessarily have detailed ongoing work for all of the [approxi- mately 275] acquisitions each year," Powner said. "We try to work with agencies on when is the best time for our audits." Sometimes those audits are proactive to encourage more effective decisions before the funds are spent; others are reactive and often analyze what went wrong, he added. Seeking to reduce agency costs "can be very sticky" for GAO, Powner con- ceded. "Most agencies prefer that we would not be there. We try to be respect- ful of their time. We also try to point out where they are doing things well so that we create a balance." He said he often seeks a coopera- tive relationship with CIOs at agencies where improvements are needed. "Rath- er than have them play hide the ball, we try to avoid confrontation. If we are fair and balanced, that helps our reputation. It doesn t always work out, but we have good relationships with most agencies." 'A long-term perspective' DOD has been a problem agency, as was clear at Carper s hearing. The Pen- tagon is the only Cabinet department that has failed to comply with audit requirements imposed by the Govern- ment Management Reform Act of 1994. Asif Khan, GAO s director of nancial management and assurance issues, pre- pared the report that set the stage for the recent hearing and testi ed after the Pentagon of cials were done. "If the department had focused on that requirement, they would have com- plied," he said in an interview afterward. "But they were not serious until the past few weeks." After many years in which DOD largely ignored the law, then-Secretary Leon Panetta --- whose lengthy gov- ernment experience included congres- sional service as House Budget Commit- tee chairman and Of ce of Management and Budget director for President Bill Clinton --- in 2011 set a 2017 deadline for the Pentagon to be "audit-ready." As a stepping-stone, he directed that the Pentagon s statement of budget informa- tion be completed by September 2014. Carper and other senators pressed Pentagon of cials about the prospects for meeting the latter deadline, and they were not happy when longtime DOD Comptroller and Chief Financial Of cer Robert Hale said not all of the steps for the initial goal would be completed by September. "More than 80 percent of our services will meet audit readiness," Hale said. Carper said that was better than zero, but "we want to get closer to 100 per- cent." Coburn concluded that the testi- mony reinforced his view that "$40 bil- lion of [federal IT] is wasted every year." Although Khan said GAO has received cooperation from the Penta- gon s nancial managers, "I can t say that about people who are in the supply chain and deal with contractors. Some of our recommendations are a tough pill for them to swallow.... We try to be con- structive, with a long-term perspective." DOD officials have reason to be unhappy with what some view as grand- standing by Congress, which enacted the law in 2011 that triggered tens of billions of dollars in unexpected Pen- tagon spending cuts under the budget sequester and has been tardy in com- pleting recent appropriations bills. Immediate grati cation GAO, for its part, has not been spared the pain of the steep budget cuts and planning uncertainties that have result- ed from the congressional dysfunction since 2011. "We had a 15 percent cut in staff over three years. Now we are coming back," Dodaro told FCW in an interview. "The impact was that we did fewer audits.... We still work with Congress to set pri- orities. The number of requests has been reduced." Dodaro has led GAO since late 2010 and was the acting leader for nearly three years before then. He is the only comptroller general --- a post that comes with a 15-year term --- who has risen through the office s ranks and has had extensive experience in audit- ing programs, particularly federal IT. He claimed credit for recent internal changes that have broadened GAO s expertise, including the hiring of the agency s rst chief scientist and creation of a science and technology of ce. GAO has also increased its hiring of electrical engineers to join the civil engineers who have long been part of its staff. Even with those changes, GAO faces constant challenges to remain relevant given the faster pace in Con- gress and modern communications. Congressional aides familiar with the agency s operations said GAO needs to become more timely in its work with Congress rather than focusing on its trademark reports, which often take as long as 18 months to prepare. Lawmakers and their aides are typi- cally under pressure to pursue more immediate grati cation. However, a quicker turnaround on reports could make it dif cult for GAO to gather information from federal agencies and maintain the high qual- ity of its reports. In expanding their use of social media, GAO of cials have sought to respond to those challenges. As with many of their activities, the government s oversight experts must reach a delicate balance at a time when much of Washington has become deep- ly polarized. ■
June 15, 2014
July 30, 2014