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Meet Senator Thompson

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Weekly Column 03-16-01

Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
March 16, 2001
The Bush Administration begins with an array of pre-existing management problems of unprecedented depth and breadth that will severely test the President's ability to achieve his policy goals. The federal government's core management problems have persisted for years and, in fact, have grown worse. In 1990, the General Accounting Office (GAO) launched its biennial ?high risk list' with 14 problem areas. The list issued this year contains 22.
We're living on borrowed time. Peace and prosperity mask a lot of these problems, but that won't always be the case. When we no longer have peace and prosperity, who's going to trust the federal government if we've eroded public confidence by failing to address these problems?
There are four overarching areas that I believe are the most pervasive and critical:
Financial management. Poor financial management wastes billions of taxpayer dollars each year. No one knows how much because the federal government makes no comprehensive effort to keep track of it.
Information technology management. Advances in information technology have yet to register with the federal government. In addition, weaknesses in government information systems make them vulnerable to computer attacks. This vulnerability poses national security threats and jeopardizes the confidentiality of sensitive information on individuals the government holds.
Human capital management. Recent government downsizing has been conducted without any strategic planning for the workforce needs of the 21st century. As a result, agencies lack workforces with the necessary skills and experience to perform their missions.
Program overlap and fragmentation. The federal statute books are full of programs created randomly over the years in response to the real or perceived needs of the moment. Once created, however, it is virtually impossible to eliminate them even if they have long since ceased serving their purpose.
These problems cause hardships for all Americans. Human capital weaknesses threaten the Social Security Administration's ability to serve the public. Beneficiaries often can't get accurate information by phone and wait hours for appointments. Flight delays have more than doubled over the last five years, yet our air traffic control system is based on archaic technology. Many programs lose significant portions of their budgets to waste, fraud and abuse.
The tools to fix these problems exist, however, via management improvement laws enacted by Congress over the last decade and recommendations provided by the GAO and the various agency inspectors general. However, the missing ingredient up to now has been leadership and sustained commitment from the President and Congress.
The President must make clear in word and deed that resolving these management problems is one of his priorities, and that he will keep after the agencies and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) until the job is done. OMB and the agencies must then follow up and establish specific performance goals, strategies and timetables to meet them. In addition, agencies must identify, and Congress must provide, the funding needed to resolve the problems. However, funding must be linked to results.
I believe that the federal government should be smaller, more efficient, and more accountable to the American people, and I was very encouraged by early indications that the Bush Administration is taking management and performance improvement seriously. OMB Director Mitch Daniels recently instructed agencies to develop performance goals to implement the President's management reform initiatives and to resolve their mission-critical problems. Likewise, the preliminary budget blueprint that the Administration put out last week has more to say on management improvements than anything I've seen in years.
During the 107th Congress, the Governmental Affairs Committee, which I chair, will work to encourage and support those efforts.

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Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson
Former U.S. Senator (R-TN)