Press Release

GAO Releases Latest "High Risk" List of Programs at Risk for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Interior Department Management of Oil and Gas Resources Is New Addition


WASHINGTON, DC (February 16, 2011) -- The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the biennial update to its list of federal programs and operations at “high risk” for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or needing broad-based transformation.

Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO, announced that the Interior Department’s management of oil and gas resources has been added to the high-risk list. At the same time, Dodaro noted that two issues—the Department of Defense’s (DOD) personnel security clearance program and the 2010 Census—had been dropped from the list because of sufficient progress in addressing past vulnerabilities. As a result of these changes, a total of 30 programs and operations are on GAO’s 2011 high-risk list.

“Although oil and gas resources represent one of the largest sources of revenue for the federal government, it’s far from clear that Interior has been collecting all the funds to which the American people are entitled. I am hopeful that the addition of this area to the high-risk list will encourage the Department to successfully make fundamental changes to enhance its ability to carry out its important mission,” Dodaro said.

The Comptroller General released the 2011 list (GAO-11-278) at a bipartisan briefing on Capitol Hill with leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Dodaro observed that a number of areas that remained on the high-risk list had shown improvement, although not enough to drop the high-risk designation. “We at GAO will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to help hasten progress,” Dodaro said.

“While DOD still has several issues on the list, it has demonstrated real progress in turning around a troubled program, enough to allow GAO to remove the security clearance function from the list,” Dodaro said.

The list is updated every two years and released at the start of each new Congress to help in setting oversight agendas. Recent Congresses and administrations have been particularly alert to GAO’s high-risk list and have used its finding to help tailor agency-specific solutions as well as develop broader, government-wide initiatives.


Here is more information on the 2011 addition:

Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources. GAO added this area because the Department of the Interior cannot be confident that it is collecting its share of billions of dollars of revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands. It also continues to experience problems in hiring, training, and retaining sufficient staff to oversee and manage oil and gas operations on federal lands and waters. Interior recently began to restructure its oil and gas program, but it is unclear whether the Department has the capacity to undertake this challenging reorganization while carrying out its range of other responsibilities, especially given current budgetary constraints.

Here is more information on the 2011 removals:

Department of Defense Personnel Security Clearance Program. Serious delays in processing security clearances prompted GAO to first designate this program, which handles the vast majority of security clearances in the federal government, a high-risk area in 2005. Continued delays, coupled with concerns about clearance documentation, resulted in the program being included on GAO’s 2007 and 2009 high-risk lists. GAO is removing the high-risk designation from this program because of DOD’s progress in timeliness and in developing tools and metrics to assess quality. High-level attention by DOD, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, along with sustained congressional oversight, played a key role in spurring progress.

The 2010 Census. GAO designated the 2010 Census a high-risk activity in March 2008 because long-standing operational and management weaknesses were jeopardizing a successful, cost-effective enumeration. GAO is removing the 2010 Census from the high-risk list because the Census Bureau, with active congressional oversight, took steps to control costs, better manage operations, strengthen its risk management activities, and enhance the testing of automated systems. The Bureau generally completed its peak census data collection activities consistent with its operational plans and released the state population counts used to apportion Congress several days ahead of the legally-required deadline. In addition, its remaining activities, including issuing data that states use for congressional redistricting, appear to be on track.

There were 14 areas on the high-risk list when the program was started in 1990. Since then, there have been 39 additions, 21 removals (eight of which were among the original 14), and two areas that were consolidated.

The complete 2011 high-risk list is available on-line at http://www.gao.gov/products/gao-11-278. For more information, contact Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs, at (202) 512-4800.


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The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. GAO also works to improve the performance of the federal government and ensure its accountability to the American people. The agency examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO’s commitment to good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.