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Posted at 6:05 PM ET, 02/15/2011

GAO report details mismanaged federal programs

By Ed O'Keefe

Concerns about how the Interior Department manages the nation's oil and gas resources have earned it a spot on a closely-watched list of the government's most at-risk offices and programs.

In the wake of last year's Gulf Coast oil spill, the department may be unable to manage oil and gas leases while overhauling the agencies and offices responsible for them, according to the Government Accountability Office's biennial "High-Risk Report," set for publication Wednesday. The nonpartisan investigative agency's 177-page study serves as a way for federal watchdogs, lawmakers and the Obama administration to track the agencies and programs requiring special attention in the next two years.

GAO publishes the report at the start of each new congressional session. Congress's main oversight panels, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will unveil the report Wednesday. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the report in advance from congressional aides.

Multiple investigations published since the April 2010 spill fault Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the former Minerals Management Service for failing to collect proper revenues from the sale of oil and gas leases and for not properly managing the agreements. The department has ignored many of the more than 50 recommendations issued by GAO in recent years regarding BLM and MMS, according to the report.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year dissolved MMS and divided its responsibilities between the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue. The offices will require new employees with specific knowledge of oil and gas issues who may find more lucrative offers in the private sector, GAO warned.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the ongoing overhaul "has dramatically increased safety standards and oversight of the oil and gas industry." The reorganization has occurred "as planned and without disruption," she said.

"It's better late than never, but it shouldn't haven't taken the worst ecological disaster in history for GAO to place this program onto the high risk list," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has tracked concerns with MMS for years.

In previous years, GAO warned of mismanagement of federal student aid programs, problems with the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program and concluded that the government was ill-prepared for the potential Y2K computer crisis. Auditors remove items from the list once they believe Congress, the White House and the responsible agency have sufficiently addressed them.

Just two issues -- planning for the 2010 Census and the Defense Department's personnel security clearance program -- dropped off this year's list. Six programs or concerns -- including the enforcement of tax laws, Medicare fraud and oversight of NASA and Pentagon contracts -- have appeared since the list first published in 1990.

The report "is especially relevant at a time when our nation's budget deficits are at historic levels and we have to spend every taxpayer dollar as if it were our own," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who chairs the Senate oversight panel.

His Republican counterpart Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) called it "a valuable road map that identifies areas where the government needs to improve."

Agencies and lawmakers are working to improve many of the items on the list. The report credits the Department of Homeland Security for addressing lingering management issues almost eight years after its creation, but said it still faces serious problems with its finances and ability to recruit skilled workers.

Various agencies are still in the early stages of implementing financial regulatory reforms enacted by Congress, but they won't be achieved, "until these new structures, requirements, and entities are in place, fully staffed, and functioning effectively," the report said.

Auditors also warned that the nation's food safety efforts remain fragmented and poorly funded. Legislation passed in January gives vast new enforcement powers to the Food and Drug Administration, but GAO criticized lawmakers for saying nothing about the 14 other agencies that share responsibility for at least 30 food-related laws.

Concerns with the Pentagon's management of costly weapons programs is another staple of the report, but it notes that the Defense Department is hiring more civilian personnel to manage costly defense contracts and is trying to cancel costly, overdue weapons projects for the Army and Navy.

The report also cited several perennial concerns with government management, including billions of dollars in improper payments to tax-delinquent contractors, the management of the government's more than 1.2 million buildings, and how agencies manage their employees and plan for future hires. The Obama administration plans to cut about $8 billion in federal building costs and said this month that it cut $15 billion in contract spending between fiscal 2009 and 2010.

More information on the report will be available Wednesday at www.GAO.gov/highrisk.

Agree or disagree with the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

RELATED: Read the full GAO report

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By Ed O'Keefe  | February 15, 2011; 6:05 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Oversight  
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Comments

The GAO often reports mismanagement, fraud and waste. I would like to see a report concerning what was done about it, who went to jail,and how much was recovered , from whom and by whom.

Posted by: nanonano1 | February 15, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse

I hope the report gives some justification for the "may be unable" phrase. What led to the conclusion? Why not say "they may be able?" It appears to give GAO an out (we didn't say it would happen)while being able to point a finger. And what were those Y2K problems? I recall it being one of the bigger non-events of the last 20 years - more like Geraldo opening a mobster's lost chest and a crisis. Arm chair quarterbacking is always easier than actually having to work.

Posted by: RichardCollins | February 15, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

You get what you pay for. As long as the private sector engineer makes more working for BP, than the government will pay, what can you expect? So let's cut the pay of federal employees!

Posted by: Frazil | February 15, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the federal government has mismanagement no different than the private sector.

Somehow the public -- and political writers -- seem to think that government must be run better than private sector businesses. That would be nice, but it's totally unrealistic. Governments consist of people just like businesses do. People mismanage and make mistakes. Government is not immune to the errors that people make.

The mismanagement in government is probably less widespread than in the private sector. And sadly many of the problems in government are caused by the abuses and crookedness of the private businesses government needs to regulate (because without proper regulation these businesses will rob the public blind -- Just remember how the private sector tanked the economy while the Bush administration barely enforced existing regulations.

Posted by: dl49 | February 15, 2011 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Gee, mismanaged federal programs. And the response is more and larger federal programs.

Posted by: jy151310 | February 15, 2011 9:30 PM | Report abuse

You can blame management for problems in a program. They don't promote people who will do a good job, nor do they get rid of bad management. Unless that is resolved, problems will continue. And its as bad in the private sector as it is in government.

And the bad thing is, you DO get a good manager, they're usually marginalized or leave just upset at all the incompetents.

Posted by: dhssresearcher | February 16, 2011 2:14 AM | Report abuse

These are bureaucrats you're talking about. They'll never get fired for failure, just promoted.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 16, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing! Not a mention in this GAO report of the most corrupt agency of them all - the Department of Veterans Affairs! While other departments' budget for 2012 has been slashed, the VA's budget has increased and has seen its budget more than doubled in the last ten years. Are the politicians from both parties oblivious of the corruption in the VA that they keep feeding this monster? The obvious and logical answer is in VA procurement which is second only in size to the Department of Defense. Follow the logic: contracts to large companies who can employ lobbyists and are good providers of campaign funds. The politicians just take turns in milking the agency. With the perfect cover of "caring for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow, and his orphans" this agency has become close to untouchable. As a veteran myself, it makes me throw up every time I see the VA secretary's smiling face in the news. He pledged to reform the VA when he first came on board the agency. What a lie!

Posted by: OldSalt781 | February 16, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing! Not a mention in this GAO report of the most corrupt agency of them all - the Department of Veterans Affairs! While other departments' budget for 2012 has been slashed, the VA's budget has increased and has seen its budget more than doubled in the last ten years. Are the politicians from both parties oblivious of the corruption in the VA that they keep feeding this monster? The obvious and logical answer is in VA procurement which is second only in size to the Department of Defense. Follow the logic: contracts to large companies who can employ lobbyists and are good providers of campaign funds. The politicians just take turns in milking the agency. With the perfect cover of "caring for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow, and his orphans" this agency has become close to untouchable. As a veteran myself, it makes me throw up every time I see the VA secretary's smiling face in the news. He pledged to reform the VA when he first came on board the agency. What a lie!

Posted by: OldSalt781 | February 16, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

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