GAO's 'High Risk' List Comings and Goings
One of the more Eye-raising findings in the General Accountability Office's new "high risk" report is how long some issues have appeared on the list, which was first published in 1990.
This chart from the GAO report demonstrates how long some of the 30 items currently listed have appeared on the "high risk" list:
Year That Areas on GAO’s 2009 High-Risk List Were Designated as High Risk
|Area||Year designated high risk|
|DOD Supply Chain Management||1990|
|DOD Weapon Systems Acquisition||1990|
|DOE’s Contract Management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management||1990|
|NASA Acquisition Management||1990|
|Enforcement of Tax Laws||1990|
|DOD Contract Management||1992|
|DOD Financial Management||1995|
|DOD Business Systems Modernization||1995|
|IRS Business Systems Modernization||1995|
|Protecting the Federal Government’s Information Systems and the Nation’s Critical Infrastructures||1997|
|DOD Support Infrastructure Management||1997|
|Strategic Human Capital Management||2001|
|Managing Federal Real Property||2003|
|Improving and Modernizing Federal Disability Programs||2003|
|Implementing and Transforming the Department of Homeland Security||2003|
|Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Insurance Programs||2003|
|Establishing Effective Mechanisms for Sharing Terrorism-Related Information to Protect the Homeland||2005|
|DOD Approach to Business Transformation||2005|
|DOD Personnel Security Clearance Program||2005|
|Management of Interagency Contracting||2005|
|National Flood Insurance Program||2006|
|Funding the Nation’s Surface Transportation System||2007|
|Ensuring the Effective Protection of Technologies Critical to U.S. National Security Interests||2007|
|Revamping Federal Oversight of Food Safety||2007|
|Modernizing the Outdated U.S. Financial Regulatory System||2009|
|Protecting Public Health through Enhanced Oversight of Medical Products||2009|
|Transforming EPA's Processes for Assessing and Controlling Toxic Chemicals||2009|
Six items have appeared on the list since its inception in 1990. Twelve total items have appeared for more than 10 years. The GAO uses guidelines established back in 2000 that determine if, among other things, the risk is inherent or systemic, whether it threatens the nation's health, national security, economic growth or ability to deliver essential services and whether the risk could lead to the failure of a government program.
Most of the longest-lasting risks have something to do with government contracting, what Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) yesterday called "a black hole for taxpayer dollars."
Contracting issues are most serious at the Defense Department. As The Post's Joe Davidson notes, GAO recommends the Pentagon take "a more proactive approach" to managing contracts and ensuring that the department's "acquisition workforce is adequately sized, trained and equipped to meet the department's needs."
Here's another chart from the report that demonstrates the progress of the "high risk" list since 1990:
Changes to GAO’s High-Risk List, 1990-2009
Number of areas
Original high-risk list in 1990
High-risk areas added since 1990
High-risk areas removed since 1990
High-risk areas consolidated since 1990
High-risk list in 2009
|Number of areas|
|Original high-risk list in 1990||14|
|High-risk areas added since 1990||37|
|High-risk areas removed since 1990||19|
|High-risk areas consolidated since 1990||2|
|High-risk list in 2009||30|
GAO writes that the removal of certain programs "demonstrate(s) that the sustained attention and commitment by Congress and agencies to resolve serious, long-standing high-risk problems have paid off, as root causes of the government’s exposure for half of our original high-risk list have been successfully addressed."
Lawmakers echoed the GAO's sentiments during the formal release of the list yesterday on Capitol Hill.
“The task of rooting out waste, fraud, abuse and inefficiencies in the federal government, as well as identifying agencies and activities at risk of failure, requires persistent and diligent oversight," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Governmental Affairs Committee.
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who considers government management a pet project, suggested the government needs to do a better job recruiting skilled managers.
"What a great gift we could provide to the American public if we were to reduce the level of waste, fraud and abuse in these high-risk areas with the best and brightest civil servants," he said.
Finally, here's the list of programs GAO has removed the "high risk" list through the years:
Areas Removed from GAO’s High-Risk List, 1990-2009
|Area||Year Removed||Year Designated High Risk|
|Federal Transit Administration Grant Management||1995||1990|
|Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation||1995||1990|
|Resolution Trust Corporation||1995||1990|
|State Department Management of Overseas Real Property||1995||1990|
|Bank Insurance Fund||1995||1991|
|Customs Service Financial Management||1999||1991|
|Farm Loan Programs||2001||1990|
|National Weather Service Modernization||2001||1995|
|The 2000 Census||2001||1997|
|The Year 2000 Computing Challenge||2001||1997|
|Asset Forfeiture Programs||2003||1990|
|Supplemental Security Income||2003||1997|
|Student Financial Aid Programs||2005||1990|
|Federal Aviation Administration Financial Management||2005||1999|
|Forest Service Financial Management||2005||1999|
|HUD Single-Family Mortgage Insurance and Rental Housing Assistance Programs||2007||1994|
|U.S. Postal Service’s Transformation Efforts and Long-Term Outlook||2007||2001|
|FAA’s Air Traffic Control Modernization||2009||1995|
It's evident that a steady and patient focus on problem areas has resulted in some successes and the "high risk" list is a great way for anyone to track government progress. Considering the nation's appetite for change and general disfavor with Washington, the new administration, lawmakers and the federal workforce should probably work with a bit more haste to knock more of these troubled issues off the list.
| January 23, 2009; 12:45 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Congress, Oversight
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