At HSGAC Hearing, Portman Delivers Opening Remarks Highlighting GAO 2021 High-Risk Report’s Focus on Drug Misuse & Abuse, Cybersecurity & Improving Federal Oversight

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at the Committee hearing on the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2021 High-Risk Report, an inventory of government operations most vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or that need transformation which is updated at the start of each Congress. The 2021 report describes the status of high-risk areas relative to the 2019 report and identify new areas of concern, including the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Portman highlighted that, for the first time, the report includes ‘National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse and Drug Abuse.’ Senator Portman also discussed the report’s call for effective cybersecurity leadership and coordination which he believes is critical as the federal government responds to and mitigates the impacts of the recent SolarWinds attack. 

A transcript of the opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here

“Thank you, Chairman Peters, and Mr. Dodaro, good to see you again. Thank you for being here, I know you’re going to bring some of your experts with you as well today, and we look forward to your testimony. 

“The subject of the hearing today—examining federal programs identified by GAO as vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement—coincides exactly with the oversight responsibilities of this Committee, which aims to ensure that government programs are both cost-effective, to root out waste and misconduct in federal spending. So this is a great hearing for us. I enjoy it every year and enjoy reading your report. 

“This year’s report, the GAO’s 2021 High-Risk Report can serve as a roadmap to maximizing the effectiveness of federal expenditures.  It’s sort of a ‘to-do’ list for this Committee. We had a good meeting this morning with you, with some of the media talking about some of the highlights in it. I’m glad, in particular, that this report identifies some important new areas. One of which is the National Efforts to Prevent, Respond to, and Recover from Drug Misuse and Drug Abuse.  

“That’s the first time that it’s been one of your important, high profile, ‘high-risk’ issues.  Illicit drugs, as we know, and the misuse of prescription drugs, in particular, have devastated so many people’s lives in my home state of Ohio and all around the country.  The opioid epidemic in effect has been started by prescription drug abuse. Not that there weren’t uses of heroin and other opioids previously but that’s really what has spawned so much expansion on it. And unfortunately, we continue to see a lot of misuse of prescription drugs. So, I appreciate you doing it. 

“We have introduced legislation over time, including in December new legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0, and that will provide federal resources for evidence-based education, prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. It focuses a lot on this misuse of prescription drugs as well. We’ve used you all as a source of information. I appreciate that and we will continue to use you. And I think, what you have done here in this report is pointed out the need for better coordination, which is really important. 

“ONDCP, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I think can play a more active role in coordinating the federal response. You also talk about data which I think is really important to have better information to be able to legislate. We’ve been in the middle of this pandemic with coronavirus and yet underneath it, the epidemic of drug abuse has grown. 

“As you point out, in the last 12-month period we have data for – which would be May 2019 to May 2020, you have the highest number of overdose deaths in the history of our country. Very sad, it’s really heartbreaking given that we were making progress, including on federal legislation that was making a difference in our communities. So I’m looking forward to hearing from you more on that and how we can implement some of your recommendations to address this issue, particularly on leadership and coordination. 

“You’ve also identified cybersecurity as one of the five high-risk areas found to have regressed since you issued your 2019 High-Risk List.  That concerns me a lot because we’re going the wrong direction in terms of cybersecurity, based on your analysis. I think that’s correct, probably the most obvious example of that is SolarWinds, where we had this massive hack into our system. Sensitive federal agencies being hacked but also private sector as well as the federal agencies and through some of the contractors. So I appreciate the fact that you have identified, not just this as a problem, but as a problem that’s getting worse, not better. 

“This would track our report we did in this Committee in our subcommittee called the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I know you were a part of, and we basically showed how eight federal agencies, over the course of two administrations, had failed to address their vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure, and how that is going to lead to problems. And sure enough, it did and it’s made our personal information as Americans more subject to theft. 

“The lack of a central authority to implement and coordinate the nation’s cybersecurity strategy is a problem, and you identify that. I happen to agree with you on that and I’m hopeful that we’ll have legislation to address it. In particular, using the Department of Homeland Security more effectively where we do have the ability to organize around CISA.  I know that the National Cyber Director position has yet to be filled, so I look forward to talking to you about that and how to work with the administration to ensure that we have a position in the White House that effectively helps coordinate this. 

“Recently, we learned of this SolarWinds hack and that should be a wakeup call for all Americans.

 “Finally, the report today highlights a number of high-risk areas this Committee has prioritized and will continue to prioritize as we progress through this Congress.  The areas include the enforcement of tax laws, managing federal real property. This is one of the great frustrations I’ve had, we passed a couple of bills now to try and do that but we still haven’t figured out how to move federal property much more quickly. A lot of excess property. So many thousands and so many billions of dollars wasted. Improving federal oversight of food safety – something that’s increasingly a concern – and, of course, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial viability. We’ve heard from the Postmaster General about his new reform. He just initiated some new reform ideas last week so we hope to be able to, as a Committee, take that on with your help. 

“We need you, we need GAO’s help to deal with all of these high-risk areas. Essentially, you’ve given us a checklist of some urgent priorities and on other issues as well. So thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Doidaro and our other witnesses today, and look forward to using this GAO data information to help us do our work more effectively.” 

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