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High Risk List

GAO has issued the 2019 High Risk List, a list of programs and operations that are ‘high risk’ due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or that need transformation. The list is issued every 2 years at the start of each new session of Congress and has led to more than $350 billion in financial benefits to the federal government in the past 13 years.
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  • High Risk: VA Acquisition ManagementVIDEO: High Risk: VA Acquisition Management

In our January 2019 update, the rankings for more than half of the over 30 areas on the list remained largely unchanged with three regressing. Ratings for seven areas improved, two to the point of coming off the list.

We also added VA Acquisition Management to the list after identifying seven VA contracting challenges at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA has one of the most significant acquisition functions in the federal government, in costs and numbers of contracts.

Another issue—the Government-wide Personnel Security Clearance Process—was added to the list in January 2018 due to growing concerns about security clearance backlogs and other problems.

Also, two issues showed enough progress in the 2019 update to be removed from the list in this update: Department of Defense Supply Chain Management and Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data. Learn more about their progress and other areas in the Press Release.

We identified an additional High Risk area in March of 2020. National rates of drug misuse have increased over the past 2 decades. Because of the devastating effects of the problem and the opportunities we’ve found for federal agencies to help address it, we will add the area — National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse — in our 2021 update. Although we identified this area in 2020, we did not add it to the list immediately because the federal government’s efforts were focused on the immediate public health problem of the COVID-19 pandemic.

View 2019 Report

Current List

When was each High Risk area added to the list? This table shows the year that each area on GAO’s 2019 High Risk List were designated High Risk.


About the High Risk List

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.

Overall, our High Risk List 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.

Comptroller General Testifies to the U.S. House on GAO’s 2019 High Risk List

  • High Risk: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. House on GAO's 2019 High Risk List UpdateVIDEO: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. House on GAO's 2019 High Risk List Update

Comptroller General Testifies to the U.S. Senate on GAO’s 2019 High Risk List

  • High Risk: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. Senate on GAO's 2019 High Risk List UpdateVIDEO: Comptroller General Testifies to U.S. Senate on GAO's 2019 High Risk List Update

Area Ratings

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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