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Oversight Matters: Balancing Mission, Risk, and Compliance

Recommendations from the BPC Task Force on Executive Branch Oversight

The Brief

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Executive Branch Oversight examined approaches to more efficient and effective oversight by the executive branch of its own affairs that would enable departments and independent agencies to improve mission and program performance.

This report:

  • examines the current state of oversight in the executive branch;
  • analyzes the effectiveness of current oversight practices; and
  • presents recommendations to improve and streamline current practices.

The task force identified recommendations to improve oversight in the executive branch in four areas:

  • Oversight community capacity;
  • Trust in the oversight culture;
  • Risk-based, data-driven compliance policies; and
  • Collaboration among oversight bodies.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Executive Branch Oversight examined approaches to more efficient and effective oversight by the executive branch of its own affairs that would enable departments and independent agencies to improve mission and program performance. This report: (1) examines the current state of oversight in the executive branch; (2) analyzes the effectiveness of current oversight practices; and (3) presents recommendations to improve and streamline current practices.

The task force identified recommendations to improve oversight in the executive branch in four areas:
• Oversight community capacity;
• Trust in the oversight culture;
• Risk-based, data-driven compliance policies; and
• Collaboration among oversight bodies.

The first part of this report examines the current state of oversight in the executive branch, through the lens of “people, process, and technology.” The “people” involved are the personnel—both internal (e.g., agency leaders, program managers) and external (e.g., inspectors general, Congress)—who are responsible for (1) ensuring agencies effectively accomplish their missions, (2) improving efficiency and effectiveness, and (3) combating waste, fraud, and abuse. The “processes” and requirements employed to exercise oversight in the executive branch exist in a plethora of policies and legislation. The task force specifically concentrated on one of those: the enterprise risk-management framework memorialized in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-123. Finally, the “technology” portion of the oversight discussion focuses on the role data plays in determining oversight metrics and the constant changes that are necessary to oversee technology itself.

The second part of the report discusses the four areas listed above and the task force’s recommendations for more effectively leveraging each of them. With respect to oversight community capacity, the task force recognizes that for internal oversight bodies, such as program managers, compliance is certainly important to the successful performance of any mission. However, there must be an appropriate balance between compliance with management and reporting requirements and mission performance. For external bodies, such as the Government Accountability Office, however, the task force identifies an opportunity for it to perform a more consultative role when agencies request it. Regarding the topic of trust in the oversight culture, the task force concentrates on the idea that, while there is an overall lack of trust in the government among Americans, within agencies the culture of trust emanates from the top and public perceptions can be mitigated. The task force’s concentration on risk-based, data-driven compliance policies emphasizes the need to eliminate compliance for compliance sake and reframe oversight to one that relies more on evidence. Finally, with respect to collaboration among oversight bodies, the task force discusses the benefits to be gained through more constructive engagement between internal and external oversight entities.

The Task Force on Executive Branch Oversight makes these recommendations to independent agencies, department heads, and Congress.

Recommendations:

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