GAO Chief Sends Long Wish List to the New Congress

By Stephen Barr
Monday, November 27, 2006

If the next Congress follows through on Democratic leadership promises to conduct aggressive oversight of the government, a to-do list will be waiting, courtesy of Comptroller General David M. Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office.

For the first time, Walker has sent congressional leaders a letter pointing to areas where he thinks oversight is needed. His list, drawn from years of research by the watchdog agency, is intended to give Congress "a jump-start on your planning," he said.

"We cannot afford to continue business as usual in Washington, given our current deficit and growing long-term fiscal challenges," Walker said in the letter, sent this month.

In addition, Walker wrote, most of the government's policies and programs "are based on conditions that existed decades ago," suggesting that it is time for "a fundamental review, reprioritization and re-engineering of the base of government."

Walker lists 36 topics for investigation and oversight hearings, and many of them involve daunting political issues, such as Social Security and Medicare, immigration policy, and the costs and benefits of environmental and energy policies.

Some of his recommendations touch on how federal employees conduct the government's business and deliver services to the public. For example, Walker's letter calls for:

· Addressing the government's contracting problems.

The GAO estimates that about a quarter of the government's discretionary spending is for products and services from contractors (more than $338 billion in fiscal 2005).

Walker recommends that Congress require agencies to report on how they ensure that contractors "are playing appropriate roles." He also urges Congress to ensure that agencies are adequately staffed to monitor contract costs and performance, particularly at critical times, such as hurricane response and the war in Iraq.

· Improving federal computer security to deter identity theft. Special attention needs to be paid to protecting Social Security numbers, including the methods used to issue and replace Social Security cards, Walker says.

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