GAO's curious list of urgent issues


Congress’ watchdog arm, the Government Accountability Office, put out a list today of the 13 most urgent issues facing President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Congress. The list includes such no-brainers as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, oversight of the financial market, and protecting the homeland. But it also includes a few head-scratchers — transitioning to digital television and carrying out the 2010 Census, to name two — that are even more curious when you consider what didn’t make GAO’s cut. Things like securing energy independence, reforming Medicare and Social Security, and providing health care to all Americans.

So what gives? Chris Mihm, the GAO director who helped compile the list, tells me the list doesn’t necessarily represent the most important issues the next administration and Congress will face. Rather, the idea was to focus on those items “that the transition team will need to be on top of from day one.”

Early next year, for instance, the Census Bureau will begin mapping out addresses for the 2010 Census using, for the first time, hand-held computers that have proven far from reliable.  Meanwhile, television broadcasters will cease transmitting analog signals on Feb. 17, and homes without digital access will see their TV screens go black. In both cases, these are time-sensitive events that have little room for error. “If those aren’t effectively executed, there isn’t a recovery opportunity,” Mihm says.

Looking past the administration’s first month or so in office, GAO already is preparing to highlight the dizzying array of long-term issues facing Washington. On a new website, it previews nearly three dozen reports that will be coming out over the next six to nine months addressing major management issues. First on the list? Energy independence.


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