Five Programs Stripped From GAO “High Risk” List

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Ranking Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., Wednesday joined with Comptroller General David Walker to release the General Accounting Office?s biennial list of government programs and functions most vulnerable to waste, fraud and mismanagement.

Of the 26 items on the “high risk” list in 1999, five have been removed and two have been reduced on the 2001 list. One entirely new area has been added and an existing item has been expanded.

“I think it?s a substantial achievement to be able to say that five areas have been removed from the list this year,” Lieberman said. “These problems are generally longstanding and deep-rooted, and therefore, require significant agency commitment, planning and effort to resolve. We look forward, at the beginning of this new Congress and this new Administration, to working with the GAO to position the federal government – in a management sense – to work effectively and with greater accountability in the 21st century.”

“The bad news is that we have made little progress in resolving the core management challenges that continue to plague the federal government,” Thompson said. ” We are seeing the same underlying government-wide problems on this list year after year – financial management, information technology management, and contract management. Eight of the programs we?re talking about have been on the high-risk list for a decade, and another eight have been on the list since at least 1995. It?s time for them to get off.”

The GAO report, titled High Risk Series: An Update is part of the agency?s 2001 Performance and Accountability Series, a compilation of reports documenting management challenges facing most of the major departments and agencies.

GAO’s “high-risk” list, which is announced at the start of each new Congress, is part of a decade-long project to draw attention to mismanagement problems that prevent the government from being as effective and accountable – and in some cases, cost-efficient – as it should be. GAO’s previous high-risk list, issued in January 1999, included 26 federal program areas or functions. The 2001 list contains 22.

Removed from the 1999 list were:

? the Y2K computer problem
? the 2000 Census
? the Superfund Program
? the Farm Loan Programs
? the National Weather Service Modernization
Added to the list in 2001:
? Strategic Human Capital Management – or workforce planning for the future.

Two areas included on the 1999 list have been narrowed. The first is Housing and Urban Development, whose Community Development program was taken off the list, leaving HUD?s two other major areas of concentration, the Single-family Mortgage Insurance program and its Rental Housing Assistance program. The IRS Tax Filing Fraud has been narrowed to focus only on the Earned Income Tax Credit. Expanded was the agency?s Collection of Unpaid Taxes program.

In addition to this updated high-risk report, GAO will release separate reports on the major management challenges and program risks that affect most of the major departments and agencies within the federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.

Chairman Joseph Lieberman

January 17, 2001

I am pleased to welcome you here today to announce the release of the latest General Accounting Office report on major management challenges and program risks facing the Federal government. Since 1990, GAO has periodically reported on government programs it has identified as “high risk” because of their vulnerability to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. This is the government?s early warning system, a way to seek out crises ahead of time and deal with them in a constructive way.

The story revealed in GAO?s 2001 report is, in many respects, a hopeful one. Several programs previously designated as “high risk” have been taken off the list, or their scope has been reduced. And considerable progress has been made by the agencies on those that remain. GAO is adding only one new area to the list this year and expanding another.

Of course, serious problems continue to simmer and impede government?s ability to be as effective and as accountable as it should be. These problems are deep-rooted, and require significant agency commitment, planning, and action to resolve. But, I think it is a substantial achievement to be able to say that five areas have been removed from the “high risk” list this year.

GAO?s focus on the significant challenges facing our government has been quite valuable. Sometimes, the benefits realized from resolving a problem exceed the original concern. For example, our efforts to avert a Y2K computer disaster taught us pivotal lessons for information technology management by encouraging government agencies to develop partnerships, initiatives and methods that will help resolve ongoing management challenges throughout government. GAO?s attention has also provided momentum for e-Government, an initiative Senator Thompson and I have worked on together and will continue to work on.

The Comptroller General and his staff continue to raise excellent questions about government-wide information security, another subject Senator Thompson and I are particularly interested in. In reports to our committee, GAO has targeted agency vulnerabilities and made scores of helpful recommendations. Based on these reports, the Committee reported out a computer security bill which was enacted by Congress last year.

According to today?s report, agencies continue to make progress implementing the requirements of financial management reform legislation. More agencies received unqualified, or “clean,” opinions on their financial statements in the last fiscal year than ever before. The financial management systems of several departments and agencies remain on the “high risk” list, unfortunately, and other agencies must still make basic improvements.

I?d also like to add a word of praise for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1994, the entire agency was placed on the “high risk” list. After diligent work and continual progress, the department?s Community Development Program – approximately one-third of the department?s function – has been removed from the list.

GAO?s newest addition to the list is called “Strategic Human Capital Management” – in other words, workforce planning for the future. Given the rapidly changing nature of our society, spurred by the information revolution, the federal government needs to ensure the right people will be in place with the right skills to do the job. Today?s report tells us more than one-third of government workers will be eligible for retirement in five years, raising questions about the ease with which we will be able to find replacements with the knowledge, skills and energy needed for the 21st century workplace. Like the private sector, we need “knowledge workers” in order to be as effective as possible in the global economy. And to attract and retain “knowledge workers,” we need to enhance the appeal of public service and make the government a more attractive employer.

We value these GAO reports to gauge the progress that?s been made and to remind us of what is still needed. The journey to a fully effective government never ends but I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that agencies have the resources they need, and to keep the pressure on the Administration, for continued improvement.

I would now like to turn the podium over to Senator Thompson and then to Comptroller General, David Walker, who will provide more specifics on the changes found in this year?s list.

Senator Thompson?

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