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GAO Poses Important Questions for Incoming Administraton

By Ed O'Keefe

If you had the opportunity to quiz President-elect Obama's top government nominees, what would you ask? And if you're an Obama nominee who wants to study hard before your nomination hearing, where might you turn for guidance?

Perhaps you should consult a new report from the Government Accountability Office that serves as a cheat sheet of sorts for members of Congress, the Obama-Biden transition team and the actual nominees, basically mapping out the top issues of concern and suggested management priorities at the 28 major executive branch departments and agencies.

Some of the proposed questions simply seek to assure that the nominee has the proper understanding of his or her new job and the proper work experiences. The GAO, for example, cites "enhancing employment and training programs" as a top issue of concern at the Labor Department. So, one might ask the labor secretary-nominee, "Based on your experiences, what policies have you found to be effective in encouraging employers to engage and retain older workers or encouraging workers to work longer, and what role can job training programs play in this effort?"

At other agencies, however, it gets really specific. At the Transportation Department, the GAO notes that, "Freight tonnage carried by freight railroads is forecast to increase by about 73 percent between 2006 and 2035. This situation has led to calls for increased federal investment in the U.S. railroad network." Members of Congress thus might want to ask the next transportation secretary, "What information and factors should be considered in determining the appropriate role the federal government should play in investing in freight railroads?"

You get the idea.

Perhaps most importantly for bureaucrats, this new report also lists seven different areas of government management that GAO believes should be discussed with every nominee: acquisition management, collaboration with other departments or agencies, financial management, human capital management, information and technology management, results-oriented decision making, and real property management and security.

When it comes to property management, GAO notes that the federal government is responsible for more than 3 billion square feet of space, much of it underused, deteriorating or costly to lease. It suggests asking nominees: "Long-standing problems such as excess property, repair backlogs, security concerns, and reliance on leasing have made real property management a problem area at many agencies. Could you describe a specific example where you have had to deal with these types of problems?"

Nobody expects Obama's nominees to have all the answers (or know the floor plan for each of his agency's buildings), nor should these questions be the sole determining factor in approving one's nomination.

“We don’t expect the nominee to answer these questions in the same way as someone who’s been at these agencies for 15 years," said George H. Stalcup a director of the GAO's Strategic Issues Team who helped compile the report. "We don’t expect that they’re going to have as much in-depth knowledge of the agencies. These are new folks coming into place."

Regardless, there's only question some nominees might have after reading this report: "What am I getting myself into?!"

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 26, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Revolving Door  
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Where was GAO over the pass 8 years?

Posted by: FutureJumps | November 26, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I thought the questions were:

1. Are you aware the Fed deficit is ~$50 trillion when accounting for Medicare/Social Security future liabilities?

2. Do you plan to debase the currency 40% and seize gold from private US owners like FDR did?

3. Do you think appointing NY's top financial regulator (Geithner) who was responsible for Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehmann, CITI, and the rest of Wall Street to head the Treasury shows you've learned anything the past year?

Posted by: millionea7 | November 26, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Where was this sort of document eight years ago???

Posted by: rocketman528 | November 26, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Obviously, none of these questions were asked over the past eight years, because competency in these appointed positions would only serve to undermine the mantra by right-wing christian freals that the government was inherenetly evil. The prior questions, asked by sumbags friends of Dick Cheney, were:

1). Are you a born-again christina?

2). Do you agree that the world is only 5,000 years old and that fossils were placed here by the Devil?

3). Do you know how to direct federal contractors to companies owned, operated, or invested in by Dick Cheney?

4). Do you know the best way to circumvent or undermine laws that protect children from polluted air and water?

5). Do you know how to lie under oath to Congress with respect to "enhanced interrogation techniques"? (this is for the DOJ, DHS, and CIA jobs in particular)

6). Do you know how to ignore signs of pending disasters, such as hurricanes, and blame the local government agencies and victims for the outcome of such disasters?

7). Did you get your law degree from Liberty University or other faith-based law school institutions?

8). Do you know how to call Rush Limbaugh whenever a critical matter of national security needs to be commented upon?

9). Do you know how to kiss Sean Hannity's butt in public?

10). Do you know how to quickly shred any and all documents that might implicate you in a fraud scheme involving lobbyists?

Posted by: pookiecat | November 26, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

For Geithner:
Were you aware of the credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations being used by Wall Street? Were you aware of the bogus ratings being done on them? Were you aware of the bogus mortgage lending practices? Did you discuss any of this with Alan Greenspan? If so, what were your conversations? Do you think you delivered value for your salary of $398,000-- very close to what the President makes?

Posted by: hz9604 | November 26, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm wondering if we can apply this to future vp nominees? I mean, there must be some minimum knowledge/ competency required and we just had quite the scare. Now would be a good time to address this issue.

Posted by: LauraNo | November 27, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

In the private sector, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes it illegal for accounting firms to provide management-consulting services to their audit clients because of the danger that poses to the audit firm's ability to be objective about the programs it is auditing. That sensible firewall does not exist for the accounting organization created by the Congress in 1921 to audit the federal government, however.

Over the last 30 years, the GAO has effectively transformed itself into the Congress'"go-to" management-consulting firm, as evidenced by the passage of legislation such as the Chief Financial Officers Act, the Clinger-Cohen Act, and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act, all of which were recommended to the Congress by GAO as "necessary" to improve government management. The problem is that reasonable people (in the public administration literature,for example) have raised questions about the wisdom of approaches like those above. Having recommended the programs to the Congress in the first place, however, the GAO is incapable of objectively examining whether the programs still make sense, if they ever did. (That failing on GAO's part is exacerbated by the fact that the GAO's standard approach for supporting its work is to cite past GAO reports, making it impossible for GAO auditors to raise fundamental questions about the GAO's past recommendations, no matter how much money and time may have been wasted trying to implement them.)

The GAO report referenced in this article, in which the GAO tells the Congress the questions it should be asking incoming Obama administration nominees, is another example of inappropriate "auditor overreach" by the GAO.

Posted by: grumpy3 | December 1, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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