Bicameral, Bipartisan Committee Leaders Respond to GAO’s 2021 High-Risk Report

WASHINGTON, DC —Today, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its 2021 High-Risk List, 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 List and accompanying report describe the status of high-risk areas relative to the 2019 report and identify new areas of concern, including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I appreciate the opportunity to examine the federal programs identified by GAO as vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rob Portman. “It’s vital that we ensure that government programs are cost effective, and we must root out waste and misconduct in federal spending. I’m especially interested in how GAO has recognized addiction and cybersecurity high-risk issues. Illicit drugs, the misuse of prescription drugs, and addiction have devastated the lives of many Ohioans and families around the country and we must redouble our efforts to combat them. Likewise, as the federal government responds to and mitigates the impacts of the recent SolarWinds attack, the effective cybersecurity leadership and coordination GAO calls for is critical.” 

“There is no question the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk Report is an essential tool that continues to help Congress save taxpayer dollars,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters. “While Congress and federal agencies have made progress to save taxpayer dollars and streamline government operations, this year’s High Risk List report makes it clear that there is still work to do to improve government effectiveness. I look forward to continuing my bipartisan efforts to ensure our federal agencies are operating as efficiently as possible for the American people.” 

“The GAO’s High Risk List shines a light on federal programs vulnerable to fraud and mismanagement, and it provides Congress with a blueprint for action,” said Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer. “Addressing government waste, fraud, and abuse is the chief objective of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. We must ensure the federal government and all its agencies are efficient, effective, and accountable to the American people and are good stewards of taxpayer dollars.” 

“Our goal in Congress, and particularly on the Oversight and Reform Committee, is to make sure that the federal government is in the best position possible to protect the health, security, and prosperity of the nation,” said Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Maloney. “This mission is more important than ever as the country strives to recover from an unprecedented pandemic that has killed over 500,000 Americans.  The economic toll of the pandemic also cuts across multiple high-risk areas, straining resources and inflicting damage on a financial regulatory system that remains dangerously fragmented after the last financial crisis.  Unemployment likely remains above 20% for workers earning the least in our society, and the collective trauma suffered by our frontline healthcare and essential workers will redefine a generation.  Today, the Government Accountability Office releases its 2021 High-Risk Report, a blueprint to help the federal government meet these challenges.”    

GAO assesses progress on high-risk areas using five criteria: (1) leadership commitment, (2) capacity, (3) action plan, (4) monitoring, and (5) demonstrated progress.  GAO explains that leadership commitment is the “critical element for initiating and sustaining progress” and is “needed to make progress on the other four high-risk criteria.” 

Highlights from the 2021 High-Risk Report include: 

• Of the 35 areas that were included on GAO’s 2019 List, only seven improved in overall ratings on the 2021 List, and only one improved enough to warrant removal.  Twenty areas remain unchanged, five areas regressed, two new areas were added, and two areas were identified as emerging issues requiring close attention. 

• Failures of leadership and management at the Department of Health and Human Services through the coronavirus crisis, as well as at the Bureau of Prisons more generally, prompted GAO to elevate these concerns as potential high-risk issues. 

•  As of December 2020, the month America discovered the nefarious SolarWinds cyberattack against at least nine federal agencies and over a hundred private companies, more than 750 GAO recommendations to improve federal cybersecurity remained incomplete. 

•  Urgent action is needed to reduce high-risk areas impacting the nation’s most vulnerable, including families coping with drug addiction, Americans with disabilities, struggling small businesses, veterans, Tribal communities, climate-impacted communities, and individuals in federal custody.


The United States Comptroller General Gene Dodaro will testify at House and Senate hearings today. 

Click here to read GAO’s 2021 High-Risk Report.