A White House management official said Thursday there is "very little real accountability" in the federal government, and he welcomed the tougher oversight the Democrats have promised now that they control Congress.
"There cannot be enough accountability in the federal government," said Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office and Management and Budget, which supervises executive branch agencies. "There is very little today. Very little real accountability."
Yet Johnson challenged Democratic lawmakers to help solve problems - not just hold hearings about them.
Democrats now control Congress for the first time in Bush's presidency, and they are promising more investigation into matters of fraud and abuse. Key examples include spending on Iraq, homeland security and efforts to help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Johnson, previewing Bush's management agenda for 2007, said Democrats can expect candor and cooperation. He said his agency's intention is not, as one reporter asked him, to step up its internal reviews to keep Congress at bay.
"Keeping Congress at bay suggests, 'Let's make them think that everything is just fantastic here.' They know better, and we'd be crazy to suggest that," Johnson said. "We want things to work better and it begins with an honest, candid, transparent assessment of what we know now. And out of that comes the fact that a lot of really good things are going on here."
He added that Democrats who run congressional hearings should do more than just draw public attention to problems. "Let's focus on things that aren't working like we want them to, but let's make sure we're focused on fixing them - not just identifying them," he said.
On that front, so far so good, Johnson said.
He said he has had cooperative meetings with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The White House under Bush has taken steps to become more accountable to the public. One of them is a Web site, http://www.expectmore.gov, which singles out government programs that work well and ones that don't.
Bush has an ongoing management agenda that grades Cabinet departments on their performance in areas such as financial practices, implementing electronic government plans and competitive sourcing. Overall, scores are on the way up, Johnson said Thursday.
"The average agency today has more management capability than the best agency did five years ago," he said.
Yet this week, federal programs involving food safety, transportation spending and technology security were added to a congressional "high risk" list. That means their inefficiencies leave them vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.
Among those, the Homeland Security Department was criticized for not doing enough since its post 9/11 creation to coordinate work and share information among its different components. Johnson said there was no higher federal priority than improving that department.