Congressional Oversight:

Opportunities to Address Risks, Reduce Costs, and Improve Performance

T-AIMD-00-96: Published: Feb 17, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 17, 2000.

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Paul L. Posner
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the budget and oversight challenges facing the federal government, focusing on ways to: (1) address activities at risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement; (2) improve the economy and efficiency of federal operations; (3) reassess what the federal government does; and (4) redefine the beneficiaries of federal government programs.

GAO noted that: (1) in selecting priorities for oversight, major attention should be given to addressing the vulnerability of many critical federal programs and operations to the risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement; (2) over the years, GAO's work has shown that central functions and programs critical to personal and national security, ranging from Medicare to weapons acquisitions, have been hampered by daunting financial and program management problems; (3) these problems result in persistent exposure of these activities to waste and abuse; (4) these weaknesses have real consequences with large stakes that are important and visible to many Americans; (5) some of the problems involve the waste or improper use of scarce federal resources; (6) federal funds are diverted from their intended uses or beneficiaries, revenues owed are not effectively identified or collected, or excessive inventories and procurement costs drive federal costs higher than they need to be for some areas; (7) high-risk areas and improper payment problems reflect deeply rooted weaknesses in federal financial and program management, as well as more fundamental tensions associated with conflicting statutory goals and complex program delivery systems and mechanisms; (8) the government's financial systems are all too often unable to perform the most rudimentary bookkeeping for federal entities, many of which are engaged in financial transactions whose magnitude, complexity, and risk exceeds those of large private companies; (9) weaknesses in underlying financial systems make agencies vulnerable by undermining their ability to safeguard assets, account for appropriated resources, or measure the costs of their activities; (10) effective congressional oversight can improve performance accountability and financial integrity of existing programs by addressing the delivery strategies and structures used to implement federal programs; (11) addressing high-risk activities and pursuing opportunities to improve economy and efficiencies in government operations can yield significant improvements and cost savings and, hence, should be important targets for congressional oversight; (12) Congress originally defines the intended audience for any program or service based on a certain perception of eligibility and need; and (13) to better reflect changing conditions and target limited resources, these definitions should be periodically reviewed and revised.

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