While two items fell off the list in its latest iteration, dozens of areas have been listed for a decade or more.
GAO's High-Risk Series lists areas of government spending most prone to waste, fraud or mismanagement, and those most in need of transformation.(Stock image)
Seventeen items on the newly released High-Risk Series from the Government Accountability Office have been on the list for a decade, while only two were removed since the report was last issued in 2011.
In a Feb. 14 hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and other GAO officials testified about the biennial list that highlights federal program areas at high risk for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.
The fact that the government is hemorrhaging money due to waste is no small issue. In 2012, $260 billion, or 7 percent of the federal government’s total spending, was lost to fraud and waste. That number, when annualized or "decadeized," represents $2.6 trillion -- twice the amount of the looming sequester, noted Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman.
"If we were able to save just half of what we waste, there would be no sequestration at all," he said. The high-risk list covers a broad spectrum of government areas, including workforce management, the protection of federal IT systems and citizen-centric efforts such as Medicare and Medicaid. The Defense Department alone has seven program areas on the list, including financial management, weapon systems acquisition and business systems modernization.
Identifying high-risk areas is not enough anymore, Issa said, because many of them are perennial problems. In addition to the 17 areas on this year’s list that were identified as recurrent high risks for the past 10 years, six have continued to be cited as high risk since 1990 when the list was created, Issa said.
He added that he does not expect an overnight fix, but GAO and bipartisan support should help attack the problems and "make real improvement."
The GAO document also recognizes improvements in high-risk areas. Since February 2011, "notable progress" has been made in many of the areas, Dodaro said, in part due to Congress passing legislation that addressed GAO’s previous recommendations. The Office of Management and Budget and individual agencies have also regularly met with GAO to find ways to get programs off the high-risk list.
Enough progress was seen to remove the high-risk designation from two areas: management of interagency contracting and the Internal Revenue Service’s business systems modernization. The latter first landed on the high-risk list in 1995 because the agency was mired in management and technical problems, Dodaro said. Since then, the IRS has made substantial improvements and recently deployed a modular system that allows daily updates to taxpayer accounts.
But even after items come off the high-risk list, GAO continues to monitor them to ensure they do not go off track again. "They may be off the list, but they’re not out of sight," Dodaro said.
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