DHS, DoD among agencies making slow, steady progress to get off High Risk list

Friday - 2/15/2013, 6:19am EST

Nearly every program on the Government Accountability Office's biennial High Risk list, released Thursday, made some course correction over the past two years.

The Homeland Security Department's management functions and the Defense Department's management of its supply chain are two that Comptroller General Gene Dodaro specifically highlighted as troubled programs starting to head down the right path.

"DHS has made steady progress in their initial implementation since they were stood up in 2003. We put them on the list at that time because of the big challenges they had in integrating 22 into the department and begin to integrate their management systems," he said in an interview with Federal News Radio Thursday after testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the High Risk list. "They have strategic plans now. They've hired a workforce. They've set up the infrastructure and some of the mechanics of operating the department effectively. But they still need to make improvements in some of the management functions of the department that are affecting their ability to deliver their mission results."

Dodaro said better acquisition and financial management, and continued improvement in the technology and human capital management areas are the main things DHS still must work on. GAO identified 31 areas in need of attention and improvement. He said DHS (http://www.federalnewsradio.com/473/3014706/Management-successes-paving-the-way-for-One-DHS) fully implemented six of those 31 recommendations and started working on some other ones.

Leadership support is key

GAO found DoD met two of the five criteria to be removed from the High Risk list.

"Specifically, DoD has demonstrated top leadership support for improving supply chain management, and the department has the capacity to resolve risks in this area," GAO wrote in its report to Congress. "For example, DoD leadership has developed and begun implementing a congressionally mandated plan for improving inventory management."

DoD still has seven programs on the list, including its business systems modernization, financial management and approach to business transformation.

Overall, GAO (http://www.federalnewsradio.com/440/3225403/IRS-program-interagency-contracting-finally-removed-from-High-Risk-list) placed 30 programs on the 2013 High Risk list, including two new ones: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather satellite program, specifically the acquisition and management strategies around how it is replacing both polar orbiting and geostationary satellites. The second is the federal government's financial risk because of climate change. This topic is focused on several things the government does, including the risk to federal property and lands, the flood and crop insurance programs run by FEMA and the Agriculture Department and funding to state and local communities as part of the disaster relief effort.

GAO also removed two programs—the management of interagency contracting and the IRS's Business System Modernization program.

Dodaro said GAO looked at several factors that helped decide the IRS made the progress needed to get off the list.

"They finally delivered their first installment of the tax system modernization and that will allow more timely updating for taxpayer accounts on a daily basis, which will improves services to the taxpayer and puts them in a better position to carry out their enforcement and tax administration responsibilities. Number 2, their investment practices have gone from years ago not being very effective to now, we believe, they have implemented about 80 percent of all the best practices for IT investment management and actually all the best practices for project management oversight. Third, we have suggested overtime that computer maturity model assessments are important. They've recently received a Level 3 under the Software Engineering Institute's Computer Maturity Model Assessment."

Contracting problems fixed

Dodaro said it just wasn't GAO who recognized the progress in each of the last three high-risk lists, but Congress in fiscal 2012 didn't require IRS to provide them with an expenditure plan. He said that is a sign Congress is more trusting of the agency's direction.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the General Services Administration followed a similar route as the IRS to get the management of interagency contracting off the list.

Dodaro said the problems GAO and agency inspectors general found eight years ago mostly have been solved.

"All the mechanisms were put in place and controls for it to operate more effectively, first at the individual agency level. For example, reports from the DoD IG have shown steady progress in those areas," he said. "Secondly, the Federal Acquisition Regulations was changed to require best procurement practices approach. Thirdly, OMB put in place new rules for business cases for new contract systems, and better data is being collected."

One of those ways the OFPP is collecting better data is through a new online directory of multiple award contracts.