Skip to main content

High-Risk Series: Key Actions to Make Progress Addressing High-Risk Issues

GAO-16-480R Published: Apr 25, 2016. Publicly Released: May 25, 2016.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights


What GAO Found

Lasting solutions to the federal government's high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, dramatically improve service to the American public, strengthen public confidence and trust in the performance and accountability of the national government, and ensure the ability of government to deliver on its promises. GAO maintains a high-risk program to focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.

Since 1990, more than one-third of the areas GAO previously designated as high risk have been removed from the list because sufficient progress was made in addressing the problems identified.

In each of its updates to the High Risk List for more than a decade, GAO has assessed progress to address the five criteria--leadership commitment, capacity, action plan, monitoring, and demonstrated progress--for removing a high-risk area from the list. In the 2015 update to the High Risk List, GAO added clarity and specificity to its assessments by rating each high-risk area's progress on each of the five criteria using the following definitions:

  • Met. Actions have been taken that meet the criterion. There are no significant actions that need to be taken to further address this criterion.
  • Partially Met. Some, but not all, actions necessary to meet the criterion have been taken.
  • Not Met. Few, if any, actions toward meeting the criterion have been taken.

These five criteria form a road map for efforts to improve and ultimately address high-risk issues. Addressing some of the criteria leads to progress, while satisfying all of the criteria is central to removal from the list. In 2015, most high-risk areas, overall, either "met" or "partially met" the criteria of leadership commitment and "partially met" the remaining four criteria of capacity, action plan, monitoring, and demonstrated progress.

In this report, GAO presents illustrative examples from the 2015 High Risk report for each of the five criteria that demonstrate actions agencies have taken that led to progress or removal from the High Risk List. Federal agencies can use these examples as guides to make additional progress on addressing the High Risk List.

Criteria for Removal from the High Risk List and Examples of Actions Leading to Progress


Why GAO Did This Study

GAO's next update to the High Risk List is scheduled for issuance in early 2017. In the interim, GAO is providing information from its 2015 report on how agencies made progress addressing high-risk issues. This report provides illustrative actions that agencies took that led to progress or removal from the High Risk List that could provide guidance to agencies whose programs are on the High Risk List. GAO also provided illustrative examples from its 2015 report of areas where progress was not made against criteria and more needed to be done to demonstrate progress.

For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at 202-512-6806 or

Full Report

GAO Contacts

Office of Public Affairs


Federal agenciesHomeland securityInternal controlsMedical equipmentMilitary technologyMonitoringPublic healthTerrorismCorrective actionCost savingsFederal agency leadershipHigh-risk issuesHigh-risk listInformation sharing