GAO freshens up its list of high-risk programs

The Government Accountability Office today updated its list of high-risk government programs, removing some programs and adding a new one.

The Government Accountability Office today released a biennial update to its list of high-risk government programs, which includes removing the Defense Department’s personnel security clearance program and the 2010 census.

The update provides a progress report on the 31 government programs that GAO – Congress’ investigative arm – determined in 2009 were vulnerable to fraud, abuse and mismanagement or needed broad reform.

Read the new report.

This year, GAO designated the Interior Department’s management of federal oil and gas resources as a new high-risk area because it does not have “reasonable assurance” that the department is collecting its share of revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands and because of its ongoing problems in hiring, training and retaining sufficient staff members to provide oversight and management of oil and gas operations.

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The list now includes 30 programs. They affect DOD's contract management, DOD's weapons systems acquisition, enforcement of tax laws, and assurance of the effective protection of technologies critical to national security interests, among other areas. 

GAO said in the report that enough progress has been made in strategic human capital management, managing federal real property and DOD support infrastructure management for it narrow the scope of those high-risk issues.

It also explained why it was able to remove the high-risk designation from DOD’s clearance program, noting improvements in timeliness, the development of tools and metrics to assess quality, as well as a commitment to sustained progress.

“Importantly, continued congressional oversight and the committed leadership of the Suitability and Security Clearance Performance Accountability Council – which is responsible for overseeing security clearance reform efforts – have greatly contributed to the progress of DOD and the governmentwide security clearance reform,” GAO stated. 

DOD’s security clearance program was first designated as high-risk in 2005 due to longstanding delays in the clearance process. GAO’s problems with the program continued in 2007 and 2009 as it continued to identify clearance delays and additional problems with clearance documentation, according to the report.

But in a January 2009 update, GAO noted that DOD had made considerable progress toward meeting statutory timeliness goals for initial clearance established in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Specifically, GAO found DOD processed 90 percent of initial clearances in an average of 49 days and met the 60-day statutory deadline in fiscal 2010.

GAO also decided to remove the 2010 census from its high-risk list because it completed its data collection activities consistent with operational plans, released state populations counts several days ahead of the legally mandated deadline and appears to be on track to deliver the data that states use for congressional redistricting.

Gene Dodaro, the U.S. comptroller general and head of GAO, wrote in a New York Times editorial Feb. 15 that leadership support from agencies, clear measures with which to gauge progress, and strong congressional oversight contributed to these two programs being removed from the list. 

And because the GAO report comes only two days after the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget proposal, Dodaro suggested that the list should be viewed as a road map to improving government services and potentially saving billions of dollars.

GAO said its high-risk effort is a top priority and it intends to put “even greater emphasis on identifying high-risk problems across government and providing insights and sustained attention to help address them, working collaboratively with Congress, agency leaders, and the Office of Management and Budget.”