- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Want to avoid a Hurricane Katrina-style government foul-up? Congress’ watchdog agency has the playbook for President-elect Barack Obama to improve veterans’ care, avoid a catastrophic health or food-safety emergency and improve the U.S. image overseas.

Those are part of a list of 13 “urgent issues” that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says will face Mr. Obama, and they’re but a small slice of the amount of armchair advice flowing in to the next president - all reminders of how much Mr. Obama and his team have to bone up on before he is sworn in Jan. 20.

It’s a curious list. GAO includes “protecting the homeland” and “retirement of the space shuttle” but excludes hot-button issues such as immigration or global warming.

“What we were interested in there was identifying a set of issues the president-elect and his transition team need to be on top of from Day One,” said Chris Mihm, managing director for strategic issues at GAO, which calls its list, found at GAO’s web site, the “critical and time-sensitive” challenges that will require federal action.

The list was compiled from pressing problems and upcoming deadlines that Mr. Obama needs to be aware of, such as preparing for the 2010 census or meeting the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline for television broadcasters to transmit solely in digital.

“If the federal government doesn’t pull that off right, it could really undermine citizens’ confidence in the ability of the government to tackle much more urgent, much more sensitive issues,” Mr. Mihm said. “What we’ve seen in other administrations - and it’s not just administrations, it’s public management generally - is sometimes all it can take is one or two major blunders from a public management standpoint.”

GAO is just one agency offering advice.

The General Services Administration has its own Web site, Presidential Transition Resources, with tips for Obama administration employees, including an organization chart to the federal government, a guide to ethics and information on how government employees should preserve official records.

Outsiders are no less helpful, with think thanks such as the Center for American Progress - run, incidentally, by his transition chief John Podesta - offering thoughts on what Mr. Obama’s priorities should be. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has weighed in on what kind of dog he should get to fulfill his promise to his daughters.

The government insiders, though, are the ones Mr. Obama might want to pay closest attention to, particularly if he’s serious about his pledge to make government work.

GAO is Congress’ investigate arm, the giant team of government auditors that produces hundreds of reports a year looking at how government performs.

The agency has plenty of suggestions for where the government needs better management and where to slice spending, including the defense budget, which hit $512 billion in the current fiscal year, not including supplemental funding for parts of the war on terror.

GAO also had smaller suggestions for cost-cutting that the Obama administration could impose unilaterally. One option was to ban businesses that are delinquent in tax payments from being able to hire immigrant workers as an incentive to push those businesses to pay their taxes.

Congressional overseers say they hope Mr. Obama will put the GAO tool to use.

“This site provides valuable information on our long-term fiscal challenges and areas of critical risk to our government,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican. “In the 11 weeks until Inauguration Day, I hope President-elect Obama and his key advisers will work with Congress to develop a strategic plan to confront these issues which demand immediate attention.”

Mr. Voinovich is the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee with oversight for government management. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, is the subcommittee chairman.

GAO took a first stab at a transition planner in 2000, although it was less Web-based. A transition planner wasn’t needed in 2004, when President Bush’s re-election meant continuity.

GSA, meanwhile, is in charge of some of the basics such as providing office space for Mr. Obama’s transition and offering advice for his staff that will be making the jump from campaigning to governing.

And Mr. Obama has his own ideas for his priorities, which he has laid out in his own transition Web site, Change.gov, “a plan to revive the economy, to fix our health care, education and social security systems, to define a clear path to energy independence, to end the war in Iraq responsibly and finish our mission in Afghanistan, and to work with our allies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, among many other domestic and foreign policy objectives.”



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