NAO faces conundrum over crystal-hall gazing

Despite such a critical mission, the NAO
has stood firm on its vow that it won’t be overstepping its bounds when it comes
to the ‘foresight’ game, despite rallying cries from its counterparts across the

But a sea-change towards greater ‘role of government’ research may turn out
to be a natural progression as the body is increasingly relied upon as a safety

The NAO has drawn the line at going any
further, but the grey area between insight and foresight, which is being
championed in the US to a greater extent, rapidly hoves into view. It has
already conducted risk-based studies for the troubled Olympic delivery programme
and the Trident project.

Recently, David M Walker comptroller general of the Government Accountability
Organisation, reported that the US was shifting towards more foresight
activities. The contrast between the US and UK organisations was brought into
sharp relief by Walker’s speech.

His stinging invective took aim at the US Congress in which he singled it out
as having a ‘leadership deficit’ and it being ‘part of the problem’ of federal

The NAO held firm on its stance that the insight role was foremost on its

‘We’re ready and expect to have early looks at large-scale programmes, in
terms of highlighting risk, but we’re not the government and we don’t make
policy. We’re not in the business of forecasting,’ it said.

The GAO monitors the implementation of Sarbox and decides whether reform
elements similar to those in Sarbox make sense for the federal government, in
addition to enhancing federal financial reporting with fiscal sustainability

If, unlikely though it is, the US model was followed to the letter, the NAO
could have a hand in making key decisions on IFRS policy.

The environment is a key political topic, but despite its objective position
the NAO could be asked to make key assessments on the delivery of DEFRA’s
climate change programme, which expected to rack up £620m in public spending
costs by the end of the 2010 financial year.

The NAO is careful to stress that its scrutiny of public spending is ‘totally
independent of government’ but this may well be an outmoded standpoint as its
links with the focus, direction and delivery of key initiatives tighten.

NAO VS GAO: Bourn and Walker go head to head

Sir John Bourn

? Official title: Comptroller General of the Receipt and Issue of Her Majesty’s
Exchequer and Auditor General of Public Accounts.

? Organisation: National Audit Office

? NAO Mission: ‘To promote the highest standards in financial management and
reporting’ and ‘proper conduct of public business and beneficial change in the
provision of public services’

? Economics degree and PhD. from London School of Economics

? Former deputy under secretary of state for defence procurement at the
Ministry of Defence

? Member of the United Nations panel of external auditors

David M Walker

? Official title: Comptroller General of the United States

? Organisation: Government Accountability Organisation

? GAO Mission: ‘To help improve the performance and assure the accountability
of the federal government for the benefit of the American people’

? Certified public accountant at Jacksonville University and gained a senior
management in government certificate at Harvard

? Between 1989 and 1998, Walker worked at Arthur Andersen where he was a
partner and global managing director of the human capital services practice
based in Atlanta, Georgia

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