High-Risk Series

An Update Gao ID: HR-99-1 January 1, 1999

GAO's high-risk series was first published in 1990 and has been updated for each new Congress since. This year's list of high-risk programs is the longest in the exercise's nine-year history, with 26 programs or functions singled out for scrutiny. The 26 areas range from governmentwide problems, such as the Year 2000 computing challenge and information security weaknesses, to specific programs and operations with a history of waste, inefficiency, and poor management--from Medicare to the farm loan programs to defense contracting and military infrastructure. Two areas--financial management at the Forest Service and at the Federal Aviation Administration--were added, and one--Customs Service financial management--was removed. Lasting solutions to high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, dramatically improve services to the public, and strengthen public confidence in the accountability and performance of the federal government.

GAO noted that: (1) in GAO's 1997 update for the 105th Congress, GAO reported that progress had been made in addressing the 20 high-risk areas being tracked at that time; (2) GAO cautioned, however, that much more effort was needed to fully implement real solutions to these serious and long-standing problems; (3) also in 1997, GAO added five areas--the year 2000 computing challenge and information security as governmentwide risks, the Supplemental Security Income program, defense infrastructure, and the 2000 Decennial Census; (4) since 1997, agencies have focused on developing action plans and are trying to resolve weaknesses; Congress has heightened its attention by reviewing agencies' progress and taking legislative action; (5) because of sustained, tangible improvements in one area--the Customs Service's financial management--GAO is removing its high-risk designation, making this the sixth area to come off the high-risk list since GAO began this effort in 1990; (6) in the remaining areas, more needs to be done to achieve real and sustained improvements; (7) in many cases, agencies have agreed with GAO recommendations but have not yet fully implemented them; (8) also, many good plans have been conceived but the more difficult implementation task of successfully translating those plans into day-to-day management reality lies ahead; (9) it will take time to fully resolve most high-risk areas because they are deep-rooted, difficult problems in very large programs and organizations; (10) continued perseverance in addressing the 26 areas that are the current focus of GAO's high-risk initiative will ultimately yield significant benefits; (11) collectively, these areas affect almost all of the government's annual $1.7 trillion in revenue and span critical government programs and operations from certain benefit programs to large lending operations, major military and civilian agency contracting, and defense infrastructure; and (12) lasting solutions to high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, dramatically improve services to the American public, and strengthen confidence in the accountability and performance of the national government.

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