GAO High Risk List 2019 Highlights Areas of Concern in the Federal Government

The biennial High Risk List released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 35 areas of vulnerability within the federal government. While many of these areas are carried over from the last list, several areas of progress spark hope and several areas of regression spark worry.

Since 2017, seven high-risk areas of the federal government showed progress. Two areas showed enough progress to be removed from the list entirely. These two areas were the Department of Defense (DOD) Supply Chain Management and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Satellite Data.

Both agencies took GAO recommendations to improve data collection and transparency in their respective areas. The GAO predicts these decisions will save the agencies millions of dollars in taxpayer funds and better allow them to meet mission goals.

The DOD Supply Chain Management System had been on the list for 29 years. The NOAA Weather Satellite Data had been on the list for 6 years.

Added to the 2019 List were the Government-Wide Personnel Security Clearance Process and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Acquisition Management System.

Breaking from tradition, the GAO added the security clearance process to the list in January 2018 to highlight the urgency of the situation.

The report explains, “We placed the government-wide personnel security clearance process on the High-Risk List in January 2018 because it faces significant challenges related to (1) the timely processing of clearances, (2) measuring investigation quality, and (3) ensuring IT security, among other things… The executive branch has been unable to process personnel security clearances within established timeliness objectives, contributing to a backlog that the NBIB reported to be approximately 565,000 cases as of February 2019.”

The report notes that while some actions have been taken to address this issue, related agencies still need a clear action plan for how to combat the massive backlog. The report notes that the GAO is eager to evaluate the Trusted Workforce 2.0 plan being developed by representatives from the intelligence community, Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Within VA Acquisition Management, the GAO noted that the VA has one of the largest discretionary budgets as well as one of the largest acquisition needs. The GAO explains that antiquated regulations and policies, a lack of an effective medical supplies procurement strategy, an inadequate acquisition training, a variety of contracting officer workload challenges, a lack of reliable data systems, and a prevalence of leadership instability prevents the agency from using their budget effectively.

Since 2015, the GAO has made 31 recommendations to improve the agency and only 10 have been implemented, earning the agency a spot on the list.

While all areas of the list require considerable attention to avoid waste and abuse, the GAO identified nine areas of urgent need including Ensuring the Cybersecurity of the Nation, Resolving the Federal Role in Housing Finance, addressing Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Insurance Programs, Managing Risks and Improving VA Health Care, and ensuring an effective 2020 Decennial Census.

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