The latest GAO “high-risk” report says that federal personnel management, which has been on that list since 2001, has regressed over the two years since the prior version of that report, making it one of only five of the 36 program areas on that list to lose ground.
GAO partly blamed the regression in what it calls “strategic management of human capital” on the lack of Senate-confirmed OPM directors in that time. “As a result, the federal government has lacked the attention from the highest levels needed to address long-standing and emerging skills gaps,” it said.
“Mission-critical skills gaps both within federal agencies and across the federal workforce impede the government from effectively serving the public and achieving results. Skills gaps caused by insufficient number of staff, inadequate workforce planning, and a lack of training in critical skills are contributing to our designating 22 of the 35 other areas as high risk,” it said.
It added that due to the pandemic, OPM last year did not conduct its annual reviews with agencies, meetings it said “are important to show leadership’s commitment to addressing this issue and holding agencies accountable for taking action to close skills gaps.” That attention is needed, it said, because for example most large agencies still do not follow best practices for addressing shortages of employees in crucial areas such as cybersecurity.
The list of programs at high risk of fraud, waste or abuse or mismanagement is closely watched by the Congress and the White House as a kind of roadmap to areas needing attention.
Other areas where GAO saw regression were the Postal Service’s financial viability, the Census, government programs on cybersecurity in general, and the EPA’s process for assessing and controlling toxic chemicals. It further said there is a need for additional attention in areas including IT acquisitions and operations, climate change risks, the government’s environmental liability and oversight of food safety.
Also, two areas were added: national efforts to prevent, respond to, and recover from drug misuse; and emergency loans for small businesses.