WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 20, 2023)—The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued its latest High Risk List, which includes 37 areas across the federal government vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or in need of transformation. The updated list, produced every two years at the start of each new Congress, describes the status of high-risk areas, outlines actions that are needed to ensure progress, and identifies new high-risk areas in need of attention by the executive branch and Congress. Two areas showed enough improvement to be removed from the list—Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation Insurance Programs and the 2020 Decennial Census. Progress was seen in 16 areas, the most since GAO began rating high-risk areas 8 years ago, resulting in approximately $100 billion in financial benefits since the last update two years ago. One new area was added and one area regressed.
“GAO’s High Risk List is a blueprint on how the federal government can work better, improve its programs, and save money. Working collaboratively with Congress, agency leaders, and OMB to help implement lasting solutions, we’ve seen many issues come off the high-risk list since we started the program more than thirty years ago.” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “At the same time, the current list makes clear how much work remains to overcome a number of serious challenges facing the federal government. Addressing those issues has the potential to save significant amounts of money and improve services that are vital to the wellbeing of the American people.”
The new area that is being added to the 2023 High Risk List is Strengthening Management of the Federal Prison System. This area is being added due to the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) significant longstanding management challenges including staffing, which represent a serious threat to inmate and staff safety. Additionally, BOP’s plans to manage key rehabilitation programs are limited. These programs require better planning and ongoing review by BOP to be successful in reducing some inmates’ sentences through credit-earning programs and lowering the rate of recidivism. GAO and BOP leadership recently met on these issues, and the new Director of the Bureau of Prisons expressed her commitment to bring sustained attention to resolving this high risk area.
Also included in this update are two areas that were added in 2022 due to significant and long-standing challenges. Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Leadership and Coordination of Health Emergencies was added because GAO has found persistent deficiencies in HHS’ leadership role in preparing for and responding to public health emergencies and extreme weather events. The Unemployment Insurance System was designated high-risk due to long-standing problems with the joint federal-state program’s ability to meet the needs of unemployed workers, lessen the risk of fraud and improper payments, and prevent large financial losses of taxpayer money.
Some high-risk areas are in need of significant attention because of emerging issues requiring government responses, large and rapidly growing costs, or a failure to make any progress in the past several years. These include:
- Ensuring the Cybersecurity of the Nation
- Federal Efforts to Prevent Drug Misuse
- Modernizing the U.S. Financial Regulatory System
- U.S. Government’s Environmental Liability
- Improving Federal Oversight of Food Safety
- Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks
- Oversight of Medical Products including Drug Shortages
Congressional action, such as passing laws and holding hearings, is critical for making meaningful progress on high-risk areas. This year, GAO is removing two areas from the High Risk List. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) Insurance Programs is being removed because Congress provided special financial assistance to struggling multiemployer plans through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which greatly improved the financial position of the multiemployer program. Additionally, the financial position of the PBGC single-employer insurance program has improved gradually in recent years The 2020 Decennial Census is being removed because of significant progress in all areas previously identified as problematic. The Census Bureau has taken steps to improve cybersecurity weaknesses, implemented new systems to improve its budget and progress monitoring, curbed decades of double-digit growth in its cost per housing unit, and began piloting new procedures for tracking costs for the 2030 census.
The High Risk List uses five criteria to assess progress on high-risk areas: leadership commitment, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress. These criteria form a road map for efforts to improve and ultimately address high-risk issues. Twenty-one of the high-risk areas, or a little over half, have fully met one or more of the five criteria. Overall, 16 areas showed improvement since 2021. Those who have progressed in more than one criteria include:
- National Flood Insurance Program
- U.S. Postal Service Financial Viability
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Acquisition Management
- Managing Risks and Improving VA Health Care
In the 2 years since our last report, one area–DOD Business Systems Modernization–has regressed in its overall and segment ratings against our criteria for removal from the High-Risk List. The action plan criteria rating declined from partially met to not met because DOD’s efforts to produce action plans to address this high-risk area have stalled.
GAO’s High Risk List has helped form the basis for both agency-specific and government-wide solutions to improve performance and save money. Since the advent of the high-risk program, 27 areas have come off of the list and in March 2022, GAO issued a report to guide agencies through the high-risk criteria to facilitate progress and take action toward removal. In the past 17 years, financial benefits to the federal government due to progress in addressing high-risk areas (FY 2006 through FY 2022) totaled nearly $675 billion. There are many other beneﬁts that cannot be measured in dollar terms such as improved service to the public and enhanced ability to achieve agency missions. Such changes have made a significant positive impact on how the federal government works.
The entire 2023 High Risk List is available on GAO’s website. For more information, contact Jessica Baxter in GAO 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.