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High Risk List

Every 2 years at the start of a new Congress, GAO calls attention to agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation. The 2017 update identified 3 new High Risk areas and removed 1 area. The update is available below.


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GAO's 2017 High Risk List is designating three new High Risk areas:

GAO removed one area from the High Risk List: Establishing Effective Mechanisms for Sharing and Managing Terrorism-Related Information to Protect the Homeland.

This brings our 2017 High Risk List to a total of 34 areas.

GAO's 2017 High Risk List:


Two Areas Expanded Between 2015 and 2017:

  • Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data: DOD has made limited progress in meeting requirements for its polar satellite program, which is responsible for weather satellites that cross the equator in an early morning orbit. Because DOD delayed establishing plans for its next weather satellite program, there is a risk of a satellite data gap which could negatively affect military operations that depend on weather data.
  • Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources: Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has undertaken various reform efforts since its creation in 2011 but has made limited progress addressing long-standing deficiencies in the bureau's investigative, environmental compliance, and enforcement capabilities.

CONTINUED PROGRESS
Since our last High Risk Update report in 2015, there has been solid progress on many of the 32 High Risk areas. Progress has been possible through the concerted actions and efforts of Congress and the leadership and staff in agencies and within the Office of Management and Budget. As shown in the report, 23 High Risk areas, or two-thirds of all the areas, have at least partially met all five criteria for removal from the High Risk List; 15 of these areas fully met at least one criterion. One area related to sharing and managing terrorism-related information has been removed as part of this update. Enough progress was made in 2 other areas to narrow them in this update.

Two Areas Narrowed Between 2015 and 2017:

  • DOD Supply Chain Management: GAO is removing the inventory management component from this high risk area because DOD has implemented a corrective action plan, reduced excess inventory, improved demand forecasting, and re-assessed inventory goals. However, DOD should monitor the data it collects, and needs to demonstrate that its corrective actions are working.
  • Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data: NOAA has made significant progress in its efforts to mitigate the potential for gaps in weather satellite data on its geostationary weather satellite program. In contrast, DOD has made limited progress in meeting its requirements in this area.

The key elements needed to make progress in High Risk areas are top-level attention by the administration and agency leaders grounded in the five criteria for removal from the High Risk List, as well as any needed congressional action. Here are the five criteria:

  • Leadership Commitment. Demonstrated strong commitment and top leadership support.
  • Capacity. Agency has the capacity (i.e., people and resources) to resolve the risk(s).
  • Action Plan. A corrective action plan exists that defines the root cause, solutions, and provides for substantially completing corrective measures including steps necessary to implement solutions we recommended.
  • Monitoring. A program has been instituted to monitor and independently validate the effectiveness and sustainability of corrective measures.
  • Demonstrated Progress. Ability to demonstrate progress in implementing corrective measures and resolving the high-risk area.

In 2015, GAO began illustrating progress in High Risk areas using a five-pointed star. The star visibly indicates whether each of the five criteria have been met, partially met, or not met for that High Risk area.

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Video: Learn more about GAO’s rating system for High Risk areas:

This website brings together GAO's research on issues that are of great national concern and highlights GAO's High Risk List, which calls attention to the agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or are most in need of broad reform. The High Risk List has documented more than $240 billion in financial benefits in the last decade.

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When was each high-risk area added to the list?

This table shows the year that each area on GAO’s 2017 High Risk List were designated High Risk.
View table >

In 1990, we began a program to report on government operations that we identified as “high risk.” Since then, generally coinciding with the start of each new Congress, we have reported on the status of progress to address High Risk areas and update the High Risk List. Our most recent High Risk update was in February 2015. That update identified 32 High Risk areas.

Overall, our High Risk program has served to identify and help resolve serious weaknesses in areas that involve substantial resources and provide critical services to the public. Since our program began, the government has taken high-risk problems seriously and has made long needed progress toward correcting them. In a number of cases, progress has been sufficient for us to remove the High Risk designation.

Podcast

Audio interview by GAO staff with Chris Mihm, Managing Director, Strategic Issues

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Videos

As part of GAO's High Risk series, Melissa Emrey-Arras, a director in GAO's Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, describes why GAO put improving federal management of programs that serve tribes and their members on its list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

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As part of GAO's High Risk series, David Trimble, a director in GAO's Natural Resources and Environment team, describes why GAO put the federal government's environmental liabilities on its list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

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As part of GAO's High Risk series, Robert Goldenkoff, a director in GAO's Strategic Issues team, describes why GAO put the 2020 Decennial Census on its list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

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In his February 15, 2017 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro provides an update of GAO's 2017 High Risk List.

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In his February 15, 2017, testimony to the U.S. Senate, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro provides an update of GAO's 2017 High Risk List.

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In 2015, GAO introduced a rating system for tracking progress in High Risk areas. See how GAO depicts each area’s rating with its five-pointed star tool.

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