WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday said one of the top priorities for the Committee in the 110th Congress would be to work to remove the Department of Homeland Security from the Government Accountability Office’s biennial list of agencies and programs at “high risk” of mismanagement, waste, fraud, or abuse.
At a press conference attended by GAO Comptroller David Walker and other members of the Senate and House, the Chairman and Ranking Member discussed the addition of three new areas to GAO’s “high risk” list and the removal of two. Newly added to the list are financing the nation’s transportation system, protecting technology critical to national security, and reforming food safety oversight. Removed from the list are the Postal Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s single family mortgage insurance and rental housing assistance programs. Last year, Congress approved major postal reform legislation that originated in the Committee and was shepherded through by then Chairman Collins and Senator Tom Carper, D-Del.
Many of the programs on the GAO list are within the Department of Defense and have made the GAO’s list for the 17 years it has existed. DHS remains on the list from two years ago due to significant challenges in strengthening management across the Department. GAO also singled out the protection of the federal government’s information systems and the nation’s critical infrastructures, and the establishment of effective information-sharing mechanisms, as areas in need of urgent attention in order to improve homeland security
“These are basic core functions of the federal government and we cannot allow the safety of the American people to be jeopardized by government operations that are at high-risk,” Lieberman said. “We all knew that putting together a Department with 180,000 employees and 22 agencies would not be an easy task. We will continue our work to transform DHS into a first-class department, with a special emphasis on information sharing and the other areas on the GAO high-risk list.”
Senator Collins added: “It concerns me that some agencies are persistent perennials on GAO’s high risk list, such as DOD’s contract management and financial management, protecting the nation’s critical infrastructures and information systems, and managing federal real property,” said Senator Collins. Senator Collins announced she is writing legislation to reform contracting laws, which will address a number of the problems identified by GAO.
Lieberman noted the Committee held a hearing in early January on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have yet to be implemented and will hold a hearing February 13, 2007, on the DHS budget. He also noted that the Committee’s Hurricane Katrina recovery field hearing in New Orleans on Monday exposed inefficient disbursement of federal funds as part of ongoing local frustrations.
“I was struck that none of the witnesses asked for more money,” Lieberman said. “Rather, they asked for better use of the billions of dollars that Congress has appropriated. We have billions of dollars of waste in cost overruns on federal contracts. Making our procurement systems more efficient will be a major area of our oversight during this Congress in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.”