Wednesday, March 18, 2015

GAO's High-Risk List

Every two years, at the start of a new Congress, GAO calls attention to agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation. The latest report contains 32 high risk areas. So, what is high risk to GAO, how does an area become high risk and how can it be removed from the high-risk list?

Programs or areas become high-risk based on GAO's research on issues that are of "great national concern". In other words, programs get put on the list not because of some objective criteria but based on GAO's subjective assessment that something belongs on the list. Perhaps getting on the list is not so hard but getting off the list appears to be darn near impossible. To get booted off the list, agencies must satisfy five key elements.

The key elements needed to make progress in high risk areas are top-level attention by the administration and agency lead, grounded in the five criteria for removal from the high risk list as well as any needed congressional action. The five criteria includes:

  1. Leadership Commitment. Demonstrated strong commitment and top leadership support.
  2. Capacity. Agency has the capacity (i.e. people and resources) to resolve the risk(s).
  3. Action Plan. A corrective action plan exists that defines the root cause, solutions, and provides for substantially completing corrective measures including steps necessary to implement solutions recommended by the GAO.
  4. Monitoring. A program has been instituted to monitor and independently validate the effectiveness and sustainability of corrective measures.
  5. Demonstrated Progress. Ability to demonstrate progress in implementing corrective measures and resolving the high-risk areas.

Over the next few days, we are going to take a look at some of GAO's high-risk programs that pertain to Government contracting. We will be looking at the reasons for the high-risk rating and what departments and agencies are doing to progress toward satisfying the five key elements. Some of these programs have been on the list since the first one was published 25 years ago.

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