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Balance of Power

Government watchdogs over-emphasize waste but under-stress mission accomplishment, think tank says

Those involved with oversight of the executive branch should do more than simply investigate waste, fraud and abuse, one of the most prominent "good government" think tanks has concluded.

In a report released Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center examined how executive branch agencies review their own operations and how Congress puts fresh eyes on the bureaucracy, analyzed the effectiveness of current practices, and offered recommendations to improve processes.

The report was produced by a collection of former federal officials assembled last fall to offer recommendations on improving the practices of both internal and external oversight.

The report is a follow-up from a study last year hailing the success of the inspector general's pursuit of uncovering abuse and fraud. The new report concludes that while such investigations are a necessary part of executive branch oversight, government watchdogs should also seek to broaden their focus to account for the performance of the agencies.

"While the compliance aspect of these investigative activities has surely been beneficial, the fact remains that most of the government is spending too much time complying with reporting requirements and not enough time accomplishing their missions," the new report concludes. "By shifting the emphasis of oversight to improved performance rather than compliance for compliance's sake, there may be meaningful program improvements that benefit both the federal government and the public."

The report's recommendations include bodies that provide external oversight increasing their focus on an agency's performance goals and more collaboration among both internal and external oversight bodies, in general.

"Effective oversight is multidimensional and entails more than just a compliance component," said Dan Blair, a senior counselor at BPC and former deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. "It requires a framework that evaluates risk and assesses agency and program performance."

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More states rolling the dice for election security

The paper trail has become the industry standard for giving voters and elections officials confidence that ballots haven't been hacked. Now comes another back-to-the-future move for boosting security and bolstering public confidence in elections: the return of the 10-sided dice.

The quirky toys found in many high school classrooms and role-playing games are part of a pilot program announced this week in Pennsylvania, which is joining a handful of other states in trying out a math-based system for checking the accuracy of election returns.

The "risk-limiting audit" searches for irregularities in vote tallies and relies on some seriously advanced statistical analysis combined with a bit of analog randomness, which is where auditors using those pentagonal trapezohedrons (the dice) at public audit hearings will ­­get involved.

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Inquire Indiana: Which Counties Don't Have Paper Ballots?

Indiana moving far too slowly to thwart election hacking, lawsuit alleges

Indiana is not moving nearly assertively enough to upgrade its voting machines so they're less vulnerable to hackers, a nonprofit alleges in a federal lawsuit pressing the state to spend millions more before the presidential election.

At issue is the timetable for eliminating the direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines that are in use in 58 of the state's 92 counties. The complaint filed Thursday by Indiana Vote by Mail, which advocates for any array of proposals to give Hoosiers easier access to the ballot box, wants to force the state to replace the paperless devices in the next year with machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail.

Indiana for now looks to be among just eight states using paperless balloting in 2020, when President Trump will be counting on its 11 electoral votes. The state last went for the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.

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