High-Risk Areas

Update on Progress and Remaining Challenges Gao ID: T-HR-97-22 February 13, 1997

In 1990, GAO began a special effort to identify federal programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. GAO issued a series of reports in December 1992 on the fundamental causes of the problems in the high-risk areas; it followed up on the status of these areas in February 1995. GAO's third series of high-risk reports, revisits these troubled government programs and designates five additional areas as high-risk (defense infrastructure, information security, the year 2000 problem, supplemental security income, and the 2000 decennial census), bringing to 25 the number of high-risk programs on GAO's list. This testimony before Congress summarized the third series of high-risk reports.

GAO noted that: (1) without additional attention to resolve problems in the 25 areas that are the current focus of GAO's high-risk initiative, the government will continue to miss huge opportunities to save billions of dollars, make better investments to reap the benefits of information technology, improve performance and provide better service, and more effectively manage the cost of government programs; (2) effective and sustained follow-through by agency managers is essential to make further headway and achieve greater benefits; (3) continued oversight by Congress will add essential impetus to ensuring progress as well; (4) landmark legislation passed by Congress in the 1990s has established broad management reforms, which, with successful implementation, will help resolve high-risk problems and provide greater accountability in many government programs and operations; (5) overall, agencies are taking high-risk problems seriously, trying to correct them, and making progress in many areas; (6) Congress has also acted to address several problems affecting these high-risk areas through oversight hearings and specific legislative initiatives; (7) full and effective implementation of legislative mandates, GAO suggestions, and corrective measures by agencies, however, have not yet been achieved because the high-risk areas involve long-standing problems that are difficult to correct; (8) federal agencies often fail to appropriately manage their finances, identify clearly what they intend to accomplish, or do the job effectively with a minimum of waste; (9) the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) requires agencies to set goals, measure performance, and report on their accomplishments; (10) GPRA will be more difficult for some agencies to apply than for others, but GPRA has the potential for adding greatly to government performance, a particularly vital goal at a time when resources are limited and public demand is high; (11) reliable financial information is key to better managing government programs, providing accountability, and addressing high-risk problems, but financial information has not been reliable enough to use in federal decisionmaking or to provide the requisite public accountability; (12) the landmark Chief Financial Officers Act spelled out a long overdue and ambitious agenda to help resolve financial management deficiencies; and (13) important and steady progress is being made under the act to bring about sweeping reforms and rectify the devastating legacy from inattention to financial management.

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