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GAO Adds Three Programs, Removes One on "High Risk List"

2020 Census, the Government’s Environmental Liabilities, and Federal Efforts on Indian Tribal Programs Added; Terrorism-Related Information Sharing Removed

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 15, 2017)—The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued its latest High Risk List, which includes three new areas: the management of programs serving Indian tribes, the U.S. government’s environmental liabilities, and the 2020 decennial census. Sharing and managing of information related to terrorism was removed. 

Updated every two years at the start of each new Congress, GAO’s High Risk List seeks to focus attention on problem areas throughout the federal government. With the addition of the three new issues, GAO’s 2017 list includes 34 government activities vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or needing broad-based transformation.

“In the past two years, we’ve seen considerable progress in addressing issues on our High Risk List. But the three areas being added today—the ineffective management of programs serving Indian tribes, the federal government’s soaring liabilities associated with environmental cleanups, and the rising cost of the decennial census—underscore how much more must be done,” said Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO.

“GAO stands ready to assist Congress and the new administration in holding programs accountable, improving services to the public, and ensuring the best use of every taxpayer dollar,” he added.

GAO also expanded two areas because of emerging concerns about offshore oil and gas oversight and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) role in mitigating gaps in weather satellite data.

Congress has passed more than a dozen laws to correct problems cited in the 2015 list. Two-thirds of the areas on the 2015 High Risk List (23 out of 32) either met or partially met all five of GAO’s criteria for removal from the list. Progress on High Risk issues has yielded about $240 billion in financial benefits in the past decade.

“I’m encouraged by the headway so many agencies and programs have made in getting off of GAO’s High Risk List. This year saw the removal of a particularly critical issue: the sharing and management of information on terrorism,” Dodaro said. “Congress and agency officials and staff deserve credit for their sustained efforts to turn things around.”

GAO removed the sharing and management of terrorism-related information from the list because of significant strides made domestically and internationally in sharing intelligence on terrorism, homeland security, and law enforcement.  Enough progress was also seen in two areas—supply chain management at DOD and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s role in mitigating gaps in geostationary weather satellite data—to narrow their scope.

Several other areas need substantive attention, including VA health care, DOD financial management, ensuring the security of federal information systems and cyber critical infrastructure, resolving the federal role in housing finance, and improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations.

Lawmakers turn to the High Risk List to help set oversight agendas, and GAO’s findings have formed the basis for both agency-specific and government-wide solutions. There were 14 areas on the High Risk List when it was first launched in 1990.  Over the years, there have been 46 additions, 24 removals, and 2 areas that were consolidated.

Here is more information on the 2017 additions:

  • Management of Federal Programs Serving Tribes and Their Members.  For nearly a decade, GAO has reported on the poor job federal agencies have done in running Indian education and health programs. GAO has also raised concerns about the inefficient development of energy resources on tribal lands. Thirty-nine of the 41 recommendations GAO has made in this area remain unimplemented.
  • U.S. Government’s Environmental Liabilities. Last year, the Treasury Department estimated the federal government’s liabilities for cleaning up contaminated sites at $447 billion—up from $212 billion in 1997. The Energy Department and DOD are responsible for the vast majority of these liabilities. GAO has issued at least 28 recommendations since 1994 to improve cost estimates and to strengthen risk-based management of cleanup work. Thirteen of those recommendations are unimplemented.
  • The 2020 Decennial Census.  The cost of recent censuses has been soaring, with the $12.3 billion price tag for the 2010 census being the costliest in history. The U.S. Census Bureau plans a number of innovations, including information technology systems, for the 2020 census. These innovations and other challenges jeopardize the Bureau’s ability to deliver a cost-effective census. GAO has made 30 suggestions in this area since 2014, but only six have been fully implemented.

The entire 2017 High Risk List is available on GAO’s website.  For more information, contact Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs, at (202) 512-4800.


The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, is an independent, nonpartisan agency that exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. GAO also works to improve the performance of the federal government and ensure its accountability to the American people. The agency examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO provides Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonideological, fair, and balanced. GAO’s commitment to good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.


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