The General Accounting Office (GAO) may be one of most essential agencies in the federal government, because of its investigative oversight, but to the average American citizen, it may also be among the lesser known agencies. That is because the average hard-working nine-to-five person - whose contact with "news" is a few sound bites on television after work - might never dig into newspapers deep enough to read up on how taxpayer dollars are spent in Washington D.C. It's regrettable that the average person complains loudly about taxes, and "politicians" - yet knows little of the GAO's pivotal work. Meanwhile, this paper will focus upon the GAO report on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), titled, "Status of Achieving Key Outcomes and Addressing Major Management Challenges" - which is clearly a wise use of taxpayer monies, whether taxpayers know about the GAO or not.
The GAO Critiques DOJ
The GAO review of DOJ in 2001 was a routine assessment conducted in compliance with federal law - the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA). This law was put into place because "waste and inefficiency undermine the confidence of the American People," according to the legislation. And so, an annual accounting of the performance of federal agencies was mandated by GPRA. Meanwhile, carrying out its GPRA mandate, the GAO, in its 2001 report, analyzed four "key outcomes" of DOJ's projected performance plan (e.g., issues the DOJ said it would address in accordance with GPRA). Those four issues are: 1) "less drug -- and gang-related violence," 2) "reduced availability and/or use of illegal drugs," 3) better services ("fair...consistent") from the INS, and 4) securing U.S. borders from "illegal immigration." It is important to note: this report was received on June 26, 2001, by then "Ranking Minority Member" of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Senator Fred Thompson (since retired), less than three months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In the GAO's letter to Senator Thompson, the agency notes that, as to determining whether or not the DOJ achieved the four outcomes, it was "difficult to ascertain," because the DOJ performance report lacked fiscal year 2000 "performance targets to measure success" and "lacked clear linkage between performance measures and outcomes." (One wonders, in a skeptical vein, if huge bureaucracies like DOJ deliberately make their performance goals vague and fuzzy, so the GAO will have difficulty pinning down failure and/or success?)
As to the first of DOJ's "planned outcomes" - less violence related to gangs and drugs - the GAO in its summary states that DOJ "fell short of achieving its performance targets for four measures." Looking into those failures a bit more closely (p. 8), DOJ had said it would try to perform 4.81 million "criminal background checks" - and yet it only conducted 4.49 million checks. Also, the GAO says that while DOJ claims it prevented 71,890 "ineligible" individuals from purchasing firearms, the GAO says DOJ missed its target of preventing 140,244 persons from buying guns.
Why did DOJ miss the mark by 68,354 firearms' sales? DOJ says not all states are up to speed in participation with the national computerized criminal background check system. In its own way, the GAO responded that the excuse was unacceptable. And on the topic of alibis, interestingly, the GAO's rebuttals to DOJ "excuses" for not meeting goals are couched in carefully crafted and diplomatic non-confrontational language. For example, on the issue of DOJ's unmet goals for less violence (drug / gang), the GAO offers this:
Justice could improve its performance...by exploring potential coordination efforts that might be used to mitigate external factors and by considering the use of performance evaluations to better assess its progress toward achieving the outcome" (p. 9). Notwithstanding all that tactful language, the GAO seems to be saying, "Hey, get organized."
As to the GAO's assessment of the INS - DOJ reported that it failed to meet its own goal of a 6-month average processing time for immigrants to become naturalized citizens; rather, the average time is 8 months. The GAO suggests DOJ "improve the usefulness of its annual report and plan by better articulating a results-orientation that would include explanatory information on goals and measures" (p. 13). It is clear, again and again, as one reads through this report, GAO is telling DOJ to have a better initial performance plan, and more thoroughly outline strategies for making that plan stand up to the test.
A more damning critique of INS failures - in hindsight, the 9/11 bin Laden-led attacks might have been thwarted if INS had been more watchful - is that the INS admits, according to the GAO report, "the non-INS personnel they have trained do not receive continual encouragement and support to perform their jobs professionally and, therefore, revert to their old practices."
And so, we are talking about training being wasted; money being thrown away by the DOJ. Moreover, the GAO criticizes DOJ's failure to discuss "internal control weaknesses at DEA" (p. 11), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and criticizes the failure to "restructure" the INS. (As the world well knows by now, the INS and numerous other agencies have been moved from DOJ to the brand new Homeland Defense Department.)
Of the 19 "major management challenges" (p. 29) laid out by the GAO to the DOJ, the DOJ had goals and measures "directly related to ten challenges," had a goal "but no measures" related to one challenge, had goals and measures that were "indirectly applicable to two" challenges, had "no goals and measures" related to two of the challenges, and "had no goals, measures, or strategies to address four" of the challenges. So, to sum up the numbers, approximately one-fourth (25%) of the major management challenges given DOJ by the GAO were virtually ignored. If the DOJ were a division of General Motors, or U.S. Steel, or any corporation, and totally turned its back on a quarter of the management changes the parent company demanded, heads would fly, demotions would commence, and tough new standards would be applied. But, for bureaucrats in huge taxpayer-supported departments like DOJ, one can safely surmise that nobody will lose a job or even be severely chastised, as they certainly would in the "real world" of American business.
Within the fine print of the GAO's "Observations on the DOJ's efforts to Address Its Major Management Challenges," one finds glaring shortcomings that taxpayers and citizens concerned about the defense of our shores should be up in arms about. And in these columns at the end of the GAO report, their tendency towards diplomacy dissolves, and they take the gloves off. For example, the GAO urged federal agencies in 1999 to strengthen "information security" (p. 30), and yet, recent audits "continue to show" that DOJ computer systems "are riddled with weaknesses that make them highly vulnerable to computer-based attacks and place a broad range of critical operations and assets at risk of fraud, misuse, and disruption." "Riddled with weaknesses..." is a no-nonsense critique that somebody in John Ashcroft's department ought to address in a major way. The DOJ, meantime, "did not address in its performance report steps it was taking" to get information security up to acceptable levels.
On the subject of terrorism - which is obviously far more compelling post-9/11 - the 2001 GAO report (p. 38) condemned DOJ for apparent misuse of grant funds (designed to combat terrorism), and also for the fact that DOJ antiterrorism efforts "were not clearly linked to a threat analysis and a national antiterrorism strategy."
The DOJ's rebuttal to the GAO is full of nit-picky, quasi-frivolous - and sometimes defensive - statements. But the classic bureaucratic semantic "come-back" is found on the last page (p. 46): the DOJ notes it is "continuously pressured to produce shorter and better reports," and yet the GAO report "urges us throughout to provide more information on almost every aspect under discussion." The DOJ then goes to seemingly ridiculous lengths to justify not providing adequate reports to the GAO. "We are concerned that, even if we were to include everything that you suggest, our report would still be deficient by your standards because we would need to include even more detail, and in doing so we would further offend those critics that believe the report is already overly detailed." And it's clear DOJ is annoyed with the pesky GAO investigators, when, in their next sentence, they opine: "These ever increasing and sometimes conflicting demands frustrate even the Department's strongest advocates for performance-based management." This style of rebuttal is akin to a teacher chiding a student for not completing homework, and the student replying that if he did finish his homework, then his parents would be upset because he would be staying up later than they allow him to.
Internet-Based Research of DOJ
In its report the GAO questioned whether all terrorism "grant funds" were "being used for their intended purposes." Meantime, on the DOJ Web site's home page, there is a…