GAO provides key materials to help the next Congress and the incoming administration address some of the federal government’s most pressing issues. As a trusted source for fact-based, nonpartisan information about government agencies and programs, we are well-positioned to help Congress and staff get up to speed.
We have organized our information around:
- Major issues facing the nation
- The federal government’s ability to meet strategic challenges
- Additional resources, including our priority recommendations, our signature reports—the High Risk List; our annual update on duplication, overlap, and fragmentation; and America’s Fiscal Future—issues by topic and agency, and our Find an Expert tool
Read more about this effort in our press release.
The federal government has a major role in facilitating public health and safety, delivering services, providing for national security and defense, encouraging economic growth, and protecting citizens’ rights. People expect these things from their government, and the government strives to meet these expectations.
But our work has often found that the government may not have what it needs to maintain its operations in a rapidly changing world while addressing serious domestic and global challenges.
We’re keeping an eye on these areas. Jump to:
Protecting public health and safety, improving transportation infrastructure, and keeping the military ready are all complex missions with many moving parts and many agencies involved. Many issues that can and will arise in the near future will require government to work across boundaries, with agencies collaborating with each other but also with other public and private entities.
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We know there are current or imminent staff shortfalls in key areas, like science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and cybersecurity. Also, there is a need for new skills that’s evolving fast and outpacing the ability of the government to acquire needed talent. One important element that agencies must consider in their workforce planning is the number and position of employees who are retiring.
The crucial work of government can’t get done without having the people with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. We regularly look at federal human capital management to see how effective federal agencies are in recruiting, retaining, and training their workforces to meet the demands of the 21st century.
It’s clear that the business of government will be taking place online for the foreseeable future—just like most other business. But the federal government hasn’t kept pace with developments in information technology, as it has had particular difficulty acquiring and maintaining the IT needed to meet the public’s expectations. We have recommended several ways to improve the management of IT acquisitions and operations.
In addition, increasingly sophisticated cyber threats have underscored the need to manage and bolster the nation’s cybersecurity. We’ve frequently reported on federal efforts to ensure the cybersecurity of government IT systems and the nation’s critical infrastructure–such as energy, communications, and financial services–and the protection of our personally identifiable information, in order to address the global nature of cybersecurity.
GAO has long been concerned about the federal government’s fiscal outlook given the growing debt. The long-term fiscal path is unsustainable because debt is growing faster than the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a major federal response to address our national public health emergency and resulting economic turmoil. While it is essential to confront COVID-19 and heal our economy, these efforts further complicate our government’s fiscal condition. As the economy becomes stronger and public health goals have been achieved, a plan to address these fiscal challenges will be needed. In October, the U.S. Comptroller General testified that the federal government does not have a long-term fiscal plan to control the growing debt.
Federal Debt Held by the Public
With this as a backdrop, the government will also be confronting challenges to funding many programs that millions of Americans rely on for their retirement security.
- Medicare is also facing difficulties, with spending growing faster than the economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund will be depleted in 2024 and will only be able to meet 83 percent of its expected costs in 2025.
- The Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund that supports retirement benefits is projected to be depleted in 2031, under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates. At that point continuing payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits.
- GAO has also identified broader issues regarding retirement security in the United States.
- Further, the financial stability of the federal government’s pension insurance programs faces many structural challenges that require congressional action; most urgently, one insurance program faces a high likelihood of insolvency by 2026, which would result in many participants in insolvent pension plans receiving a small fraction of guaranteed benefits.
These fiscal challenges would threaten the retirement security of millions of Americans, which would be exacerbated by fundamental changes in the nation’s retirement system that have placed more responsibility and risk on individuals to plan and save for their own retirement.
If you’re new to GAO or just need a refresher, we’ve compiled some of our best resources right here for you. Our signature reports look at large, government- or agency-wide issues. We’ve also included links for browsing our reports and a tool that helps you find and contact a GAO expert.