GAO Releases Biennial High Risk List

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) 2019 High Risk List identifies 35 areas vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement within the federal government. Many of these areas are unchanged from the 2017 High Risk List; however, seven areas showed progress, while only three areas showed declines.

Two of the seven areas of progress showed enough improvement to be removed from the High Risk List all together. The first area, Department of Defense (DOD) Supply Chain Management, took GAO recommended action such as improving the visibility of physical inventories, receipt processing, cargo tracking, and moving units. The GAO predicts these decisions will save the agency millions of dollars and allow DOD to better meet mission goals.

The second area, Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data, was removed from the list after the successful launch of a satellite in November 2017 that provides advanced weather data and forecasts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also worked with the DOD to launch a Weather Systems Follow-on-Microwave satellite in 2022.

Removal from the High Risk List requires an area to meet five distinct GAO created criteria. The criteria used to assess agencies are leadership commitment, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress.

Two areas were added to the list since the 2017 report. In a nonconventional move, the GAO decided to announce in 2018 that the Government-Wide Personnel Security Clearance Process would be added to the list due to “significant challenges related to processing clearances in a timely fashion, measuring investigation quality, and ensuring information technology security.”

The second area, added in the 2019 report, is VA Acquisition Management. According to the report, “VA has one of the most significant acquisition functions in the federal government, both in obligations and number of contract actions. GAO identified seven contracting challenges for VA, such as outdated acquisition regulations and policies, lack of an effective medical supplies procurement strategy, and inadequate acquisition training.”

Of the 35 areas necessitating action to reduce risk, the GAO believes legislation will be necessary to effectively address 22 areas of concern.

The GAO highlights nine areas which warrant “especially focused” executive and congressional attention which include Ensuring the Cybersecurity of the Nation, Resolving the Federal Role in Housing Finance, addressing Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Insurance Programs, Managing Risks and Improving VA Health Care, and ensuring an effective 2020 Decennial Census.


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