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GAO's 2019 High Risk List: Two Areas Removed but Major Progress Eludes Many Programs and Some Ratings Declined

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 6, 2019)—The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued its latest High Risk List, with the rankings for more than half of the over 30 areas on the list largely unchanged and three regressing. Ratings for seven areas improved, two to the point of coming off the list.

In addition, GAO added acquisition management at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the list after it identified seven contracting challenges for VA, which has one of the most significant acquisition functions in the federal government, both in obligations and the number of contract actions. Since the last update in 2017, GAO last year also added the federal government’s personnel security clearance process due to growing concerns about security clearance backlogs and other problems.

“Sustained agency actions and Congressional oversight will be needed to ensure progress is made across the 35 high-risk areas,” said Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “GAO is committed to working with Congress and the agencies to hold programs accountable and ensure the best use of public resources.” Addressing high-risk challenges has the potential to save billions of dollars, improve services to the public, and strengthen government performance and accountability. 

Action by Congress and federal agencies has been essential for progress. This year, GAO singled out nine areas needing special attention from policymakers: cybersecurity, the federal role in housing finance, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s insurance programs, VA health care, mission critical skills gaps in 16 areas, the 2020 census, areas relating to health care and tax law enforcement that involve billions of dollars in improper payments each year, management of IT acquisitions and operations, and the yawning tax gap.

Two areas showed enough progress this year to be removed from the High Risk List entirely.  In the case of supply chain management, the Defense Department (DOD) took steps to improve the visibility of physical inventories, receipt processing, cargo tracking, and unit moves.  Improved asset visibility has saved millions of dollars and allowed DOD to better meet mission needs.  Likewise, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and DOD made significant strides in mitigating potential gaps in satellite data needed for weather forecasting.

Updated every two years at the start of each new Congress, GAO’s High Risk List covers programs vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement, or in need of transformation.  GAO uses five criteria to assess progress on high-risk areas: leadership commitment, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress. Overall, 24 areas—about two-thirds of those on the 2019 High Risk List—have either met or partially met all five criteria for removal from the list.  Twenty of these areas have fully met at least one criterion, while 10 areas have failed to meet one or more criteria.

Lawmakers use 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 48 additions, 26 removals, and 2 areas that were consolidated. Financial benefits to the federal government due to progress in addressing high-risk areas during the past 13 years totaled almost $350 billion, or an average of about $27 billion per year. In fiscal year 2018, financial benefits from the work reached nearly $47 billion.

The entire 2019 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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GAO's Center for Audit Excellence and World Bank Begin New Partnership to Enhance Capacity of Accountability Organizations


WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 1, 2019) – The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Center for Audit Excellence today expanded its strategic partnerships, signing its first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the World Bank to strengthen international accountability and promote good governance.  As part of this new effort, the Center and the Bank aim to identify opportunities to work together to improve the capacity of accountability organizations, particularly in developing countries.