GAO Launches New Unit to Prepare Congress for the Future

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The Center for Strategic Foresight held its first conference, focused on two problems closer to the present than the future: deep space and deepfakes.

The Government Accountability Office was set up to advise the legislative branch on ongoing issues at federal agencies, including management, policy, money and tech. But now, a new center will help GAO warn Congress about the future and head off incoming problems before they arrive.

The new Center for Strategic Foresight, part of the agency’s Office of Strategic Planning and External Liaison, held its first meeting back in January and launched its first foray into the future at a conference Tuesday. The new center is designed to bolster GAO’s “ability to identify, monitor and analyze emerging issues and their implications,” the agency told Congress when the center was established.

“More specifically, the managing director of SPEL and other senior decision-makers at GAO will be able to call upon the center’s cadre of experts—the center’s ‘fellows’—for insight and feedback on how to most effectively and strategically plan GAO’s work,” according to the charter establishing the center.

That feedback will include providing insight on emerging trends and managing forward-looking federal programs, as well as advice on GAO’s internal strategic planning and the methods it uses to analyze new technologies and processes.

“At GAO, we’re committed to thinking strategically about the future in order to meet Congress’ evolving information needs,” head of GAO and U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said Tuesday. “The Center for Strategic Foresight helps to keep us agile by encouraging creative and critical thinking on the latest trends facing government and society. Our goal is to stay focused on Congress’ top policy priorities and to help prepare policymakers for future challenges.”

The conference focused on two future technologies that are fast becoming more reality than science fiction: Deep space, specifically “the management of space policy by government and the private sector;” and deepfakes, “synthetic media to manipulate online and real-world interactions,” according to a GAO release.

“The expert contributions from the center’s fellows and activities like this conference are vital to our mission,” James-Christian Blockwood, managing director for Strategic Planning and External Liaison, said Tuesday. “The center represents an important step forward in GAO’s efforts to serve Congress and the American people by enhancing our ability to provide forward-looking analyses.”

The new center opened with nine fellows from academic and industry backgrounds around the country, who will spend the next year studying problems waiting just over the horizon. Each will serve for a two-year, renewable term, according to the center’s charter.

Amy Webb, one of the fellows and a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, called the fellowship a “civic duty.”

“We are confronting deep global uncertainties across myriad sectors, and there has never been a more urgent need for strategic guidance at the highest levels of government,” she said. “As a strictly nonpartisan organization, like GAO, the center is uniquely positioned to act as a central hub for research, data-driven models and strategic assessment.”

The inaugural class of fellows includes:

  • Andy Hines, head of graduate studies in foresight and an assistant professor and program coordinator of the graduate program in foresight at the University of Houston.
  • Octavio Hinojosa-Mier, executive director of the National Hispanic Corporate Council.
  • Brian Masterson, senior behavioral health medical director for UnitedHealth Group and founder of the Federal Health Futures Group.
  • Catarina “Cat” Tully, co-founder and director of the School of International Futures.
  • Kristel Van der Elst, co-founder and CEO of The Global Foresight Group and former head of foresight for the World Economic Forum.
  • Rosemarie Forsythe, retired executive at Exxon Mobil Corporation, where she worked for 15 years in a variety of roles, including director of international political strategy and vice president for government relations Eurasia and the Middle East.
  • Jens Wandel, special adviser to the secretary-general on reforms at the United Nations.
  • Amy Webb, a quantitative futurist and professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
  • Angela Wilkinson, senior director of the World Energy Council and former head of foresight for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.