GAO Week: Ensuring National Security-Related Evaluations Are Fair, Objective, and Balanced by Charles Michael Johnson, Jr.

Charles Michael Johnson Jr.
Charles Michael Johnson Jr.

Hello, my name is Charles Michael Johnson Jr., Managing Director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Homeland Security and Justice Team.  During my nearly four decades with GAO, I have had the privilege of working on some very high-profile national issues that involve many different views.

At GAO, a non-partisan organization, we focus on the importance of being fair, objective, and balanced in carrying out our work and reporting on our results. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to fully engage and consider the views of all key stakeholders in collecting and analyzing data. While this is important for nearly any evaluative topic, it is particularly important when assessing and evaluating such critical and sensitive topics as those related to homeland security and justice. 

Evaluating critical issues such as policing practices; border security and immigration policies; law enforcement use of technology to counter national security threats while balancing civil liberties and privacy rights; and varying approaches for reducing and addressing drug misuse; among others requires one to collect sufficient and appropriate evidence concerning the economy, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and ethical implications of government efforts.

Rad Resources:

Several Rad Resources of GAO products follow:

Take, for example, an evaluation of policing practices. Not only is it important to obtain the views of law enforcement organizations on the need for such practices, but also the views of citizens as well as front-line police officers on best practices for policing.  Some way to do so are to hold focus group discussions, gather insight via site visits, or to survey such groups.

Likewise, in evaluating federal government oversight of immigration detention facilities, we have sought the views of not only government and facility personnel, but also nongovernmental organizations and those being detained. Obtaining perspectives from these entities and individuals has helped to provide a range of insights on, for example, processes used to collect and address detainee complaints and to provide care at detention facilities.

When assessing how the use of facial recognition technology could enhance national security, we looked at the possible challenges or limitations related to the technology—including any privacy concerns or restrictions that may exist. This involved seeking the views of not only law enforcement entities, but also privacy advocates before deriving any conclusions about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the technology.

Hot Tip:

If one were to assess whether drug misuse is a national crisis, one would need to consider not only the rate of drug misuse but its impact on citizens, society at large, and the economy. This is what GAO did when designating drug misuse as a high risk issue—an area deemed vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or that needs transformation. This involved examining the roles and perspectives of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other federal government agencies involved in efforts to combat drug misuse, as well as state and local governments and community groups and the private sector.

Lessons Learned:

You cannot adequately assess critical issues of national significance without obtaining the views of the policy/decision-makers, program implementers, and those impacted by the programs. We have learned that including the views of key stakeholders, who may have different views, adds credibility to your evaluation. This also helps ensure that the results of your efforts are fair, objective, and balanced, key prerequisites for use by decision-makers.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting GAO Week in celebration of the US Government Accountability Office’s 100th anniversary. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from authors who address GAO’s efforts to solve those complex “wicked” socio-cultural problems that defy permanent solutions but demand our best efforts to solve them. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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