GAO’s High-Risk Series: Improvements Made Since 2003; Four New High-Risk Areas Designated

GAO Releases 2005 High-Risk Series

The Government Accountability Office just announced the status of its High-Risk Series, its first update since 2003, and revealed that many improvements have been made in the designated high-risk areas identified in 2003. The bad news is that many of those remain high-risk areas two years later, and four new high-risk areas have been designated.

GAO reported that since the 26 high-risk areas were identified in 2003, progress has been made in all areas, although the levels of that progress vary.

“Federal departments and agencies, as well as the Congress, have shown a continuing commitment to addressing high-risk challenges and have taken various steps to help correct several of the problems’ root causes. GAO has determined that sufficient progress has been made to remove the high-risk designation from three areas: student financial aid programs, FAA financial management, and Forest Service financial management. Also, four areas related to IRS have been consolidated into two areas,” said GAO in its report.

However, four new high-risk areas have also been identified. The first new area is establishing appropriate and effective information-sharing mechanisms to improve homeland security. Information sharing is a formidable problem between federal, state, and local governments and the private sector and the government faces formidable challenges in this area, according to GAO.

The second and third new areas are, respectively, the Department of Defense’s approach to business transformation and its personnel security clearance program – which has received widespread criticism for years.

“GAO has reported on inefficiencies and inadequate transparency and accountability across DOD’s major business areas, resulting in billions of dollars of wasted resources. Senior leaders have shown commitment to business transformation through individual initiatives in acquisition reform, business modernization, and financial management, among others, but little tangible evidence of actual improvement has been seen in DOD’s business operations to date. DOD needs to take stronger steps to achieve and sustain business reform on a departmentwide basis. Further, delays by DOD in completing background investigations and adjudications can affect the entire government because DOD performs this function for hundreds of thousands of industry personnel from 22 federal agencies, as well as its own service members, federal civilian employees, and industry personnel. OPM is to assume DOD’s personnel security investigative function, but this change alone will not reduce the shortages of investigative personnel,” the report stated.

The fourth area is management of interagency contracting. Interagency contracts can leverage the government’s buying power and provide a simplified and expedited method of procurement. But, GAO warned, several factors can pose risks, including the rapid growth of dollars involved combined with the limited expertise of some of agencies in using these contracts and recent problems related to their management. Various improvement efforts have been initiated to address this area, but improved policies and processes, and their effective implementation, are needed to ensure that interagency contracting achieves its full potential in the most effective and efficient manner.

Throughout the week, will focus on specific high-risk areas, both those previously designated by GAO that remain high-risk as well as those just identified as high-risk.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47