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Priorities for Better Government: GAO Issues Priority Recommendation Letters to Help Spur Agency Improvements

WASHINGTON, DC (April 8, 2019)—The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today began sending letters to federal agencies with its priority recommendations to help spur improved management of government programs and operations, improve public safety and security, and achieve significant cost savings. The congressional watchdog agency has issued such letters in the past, but this is the first time it has made them publicly available—a move intended to bring attention to unaddressed recommendations. The first set of letters has been issued to Secretaries of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA).

When GAO proposes changes, agencies do listen. Last year, our recommendations were implemented at a 77 percent rate,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “But Congress is concerned that some agencies need to do more to fully address GAO’s suggestions. We believe that priority recommendation letters can play an important role in spurring progress.”

Priority recommendations are designed to help agency heads focus on the most important challenges facing their departments. These recommendations have the greatest potential to help agencies accomplish vital missions, such as those involving public health and safety; save money; and address challenges highlighted by GAO’s High Risk List and Overlap and Duplication work. 

GAO’s letter to DOD contains 91 priority recommendations that fall into nine major areas:  acquisitions and contract management, readiness, building capacity to drive enterprise-wide business reform, defense headquarters, health care, cybersecurity, support infrastructure, financial management, and preventing sexual harassment. These recommendations have a direct bearing on the department’s ability to carry out its mission efficiently and effectively.

DOD has made progress in addressing some priority areas, particularly cybersecurity, but has been less successful in others. For instance, DOD has taken some actions but has not fully implemented any of GAO’s readiness-related priority recommendations. These recommendations address Naval staffing shortfalls and maintenance challenges, and plans for rebuilding readiness—a top DOD priority.  Also, over the past year DOD has implemented only 8 out of 27 acquisition and contract management-related priority recommendations to improve decision-making during weapon system acquisitions and forecasting contract requirements. These recommendations are critical because DOD spends billions of dollars on weapon system acquisitions and contracts.

In its letter to HHS, GAO lists 54 priority recommendations, including taking steps to improve the accuracy of payments to Medicare Advantage plans, which has the potential to save billions of dollars. GAO also urges the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to act to minimize payment errors for Medicaid and Medicare programs. .

GAO’s 30 priority recommendations to VA include those focused on ensuring that veterans receive timely health care as VA consolidates its community care programs. GAO also urged VA, as it acquires a new electronic health record system, to ensure the new system is able to share information with DOD on service members and veterans.

GAO’s priority recommendation letters are also provided to relevant congressional committees to help facilitate oversight. In addition, recently enacted legislation requires certain federal agencies to include in their annual budget justification a report on the status of GAO recommendations.

Additional letters will be issued to the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Treasury,  as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve, the General Services Administration, NASA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, IRS, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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 Again Unable to Render an Opinion on the U.S. Government's Annual Financial Statements


WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 28, 2019)—The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) once again could not render an opinion on the federal government’s consolidated financial statements. Shortcomings in the fiscal year 2018 statements prompted Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the head of the GAO, to call for a renewed commitment by the Defense Department (DOD) and other agencies, along with continued leadership by the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to help overcome long-standing financial reporting challenges.