DoD's footprint reduced on GAO High Risk List

Wednesday - 2/16/2011, 12:05pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Long-standing complaints from government auditors, lawmakers and other experts that the Defense Department is slow to get its house in order seem to be having an effect. DoD will be one of the few winners when the Government Accountability Office releases its bi-annual High-Risk List today.

GAO removed DoD's handling of personnel security clearances from the list, and reduced the scope of several other of the Pentagon's 15 other areas that made the list.

"We are removing DOD's personnel security clearance program from the High-Risk List because of the agency's progress in timeliness and the development of tools and metrics to assess quality, as well as its commitment to sustaining progress," auditors wrote in the report scheduled to be released later Wednesday.

Federal News Radio obtained a copy of the GAO's report.

GAO continues to highlight 30 areas that are most at risk of problems or failure. The watchdog agency added only one new area, Interior Department's handling of federal gas and oil resources.

"Interior does not have reasonable assurance that it is collecting its share of billions of dollars of revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands and it continues to experience problems in hiring, training and retaining sufficient staff to provide oversight and management of oil and gas operations on federal lands and waters," GAO stated. "Further, Interior recently began restructuring its oil and gas program, which is to inherently challenging, and there are many open questions about whether Interior has the capacity to undertake this reorganization while carrying out its range of responsibilities, especially in a constrained resource environment."

Interior overhauled the Minerals Management Service last year after scandals involving drug use and improper relations with industry officials emerged. Interior created two new agencies, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, to take over the conflicting roles of MMS.

GAO also removed the 2010 Census from the high-risk list because the decennial event completed on time and on budget. Auditors, however did list several ongoing concerns about Census' handling of the population count.

As for DoD, deputy chief management officer Beth McGrath had predicted DoD's high-risk areas would drop by at least one last month.

GAO found DoD processed 90 percent of initial clearances in an average of 49 days and met the 60-day statutory timeliness objective for processing initial clearances in fiscal 2010. Furthermore, while the executive branch reported that DOD took an average of 129 days to process 90 percent of initial clearances for industry personnel in 2008, we found that DOD completed 90 percent of initial clearances for industry personnel in an average of 63 days for all the data we reviewed for 2010.

The military also launched new tools to improve the speed and accuracy of the security clearance process.

GAO said DoD unveiled the Rapid Assessment of Incomplete Security Evaluations (RAISE) tool, which tracks the quality of investigations conducted by OPM. OPM reports the results of RAISE to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which, as the security executive agent of the Performance Accountability Council, will arbitrate any potential disagreements between OPM and DOD and clarify policy questions.

The military also launched the Review of Adjudication Documentation Accuracy and Rationales (RADAR) tool, which tracks the quality of clearance adjudications.

Along with security clearances, DoD will see GAO reduce its oversight scope around its support infrastructure management. GAO said DoD has made enough progress in its management and planning for defense facilities sustainment maintenance and repair activities necessary to keep facilities in good working order. Auditors also said weapons systems acquisition has improved over the last three years due to the new law and new acquisition policies, and supply chain management now has a Comprehensive Inventory Management Improvement Plan, which DoD submitted to Congress last November, so it's on a path toward improvement.

Six other high-risk areas saw a reduction in scope as well. GAO said agencies have made progress on:

  • Strategic human capital management

  • Management of federal real property

  • Revamping of federal oversight of food safety

  • Energy Department's contract management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management

  • Management of interagency contracting

  • Homeland Security Department transformation

(Copyright 2011 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.)