GAO Week: Supporting the Congress by Providing Foresight and Policy Analysis to Solve Wicked Problems, by Jenny Chanley

Jenny Chanley
Jenny Chanley

Greetings! This is Jenny Chanley, a methodologist from the Applied Research Methods team at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). I work with analysts, evaluators, and other specialists from across GAO to help design and implement performance audits, evaluations, and more directly strategic efforts, such as Comptroller General forums and technology assessments. I joined GAO in the fall of 2004, around the time of GAO’s name change from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office. Since that time, it is not uncommon to see or hear references to the General Accounting Office, even when work cited or under discussion was completed after the name change. Similarly, some outside GAO may think of GAO as an organization of accountants and financial auditors. In reality, GAO has long had a variety of staff with academic or other professional credentials and lived experience in the social sciences, engineering, and sciences. GAO produces reports and provides assistance to Congress on much more than accounting and financial auditing.

For this blog post, I highlight GAO’s work in the area of foresight and policy analysis to solve wicked problems, reflected in GAO’s Strategic Plan and work in topic areas ranging from economic and fiscal sustainability, education and the future of work, the environment and natural resources, government administration, healthcare, information technology and cybersecurity, international affairs and trade, and justice.

Rad Resources:

  • For information about eight trend areas identified as affecting government and society in the coming years, based on global conditions and responses to challenges facing society, see GAO 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: Trends Affecting Government and Society.
  • For a searchable list of GAO’s work in various topic areas, involving a wide range of wicked problems, go to https://www.gao.gov/topics. This link will take you to a variety of GAO products on these topics, including reports, congressional testimonies, blog posts, interviews and videos explaining parts of the work.
  • For a list of reports based on Comptroller General forums, which bring together selected leaders and experts to dialogue about specific issue areas, stimulate new partnerships and identify actions to address issues, see Forums & Roundtables (gao.gov).

Whatever your area of interest, GAO likely has a body of work that speaks to challenges and opportunities for future improvement of that area.

Lessons Learned:

GAO’s work in information technology, data analytics, and the use of data for machine learning, as well as other applications identifies both opportunities and challenges associated with advances in information technology and computing capabilities. This is reflected in reports such as Data and Analytics Innovation: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges (GAO-16-659sp) and Artificial Intelligence:  Emerging Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications (GAO-18-142sp). On the one hand, this work illustrates how data and analytics can be used to improve individual and societal outcomes in areas including healthcare, transportation, financial markets and services, criminal justice, and cybersecurity, among others.

On the other hand, this work reflects that current artificial intelligence (AI) approaches are based on identifying patterns in available data using rules (i.e. algorithms) developed by humans or selected by computer programs. Moreover, the use of these algorithms may result in unintended consequences that are difficult to predict or are not apparent until after irreparable damage has resulted. On a personal note, overcoming the human tendency to tribal (i.e. for the benefit of one’s group at the expense of another) and short-sighted thinking and behavior is key to the design of sustainable technologies and institutions that benefit all of humanity and the natural world. Fortunately, the work of GAO and the wider evaluation community, as reflected in daily AEA 365 blog entries, seems focused precisely on efforts to propel us toward positive change.

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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