GAO Releases Updated High-Risk Series | Citizens Against Government Waste

GAO Releases Updated High-Risk Series

The WasteWatcher

Every two years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report listing areas in the federal government it deems are at a high-risk of waste, fraud, and abuse.  The most recent version, Released on February 13, 2013, identified 30 such areas, the same as the last report. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has long advocated for reform in several areas covered by the report.  These include the restructuring of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), managing federal real property, and Department of Defense (DOD) weapons system acquisition. The USPS recently announced that it will soon move to cancel six-day delivery of first-class mail to control its operations in order to cut costs and reduce the risk of a taxpayer bailout.  CAGW has long called for Congress to allow the USPS to operate more like a private-sector business.  Accordingly, Congress should resist pressure to block the USPS from reacting as any business would to the problem of falling demand for its services: by cutting costs. The financial travails of the USPS are well-documented.  After recording losses of $8.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2010, $5.1 billion in FY 2011, and $15.6 billion in FY 2012, the USPS teeters on the brink of financial ruin.  As with the rest of the nation’s fiscal problems, Congress is ignoring the problem.  Fortunately, the American people seem to understand that the USPS should be allowed to adjust its business model as a way to save costs.  According to a 2012 New York Times/CBS poll, 7 in 10 Americans support the USPS’s decision to cancel Saturday delivery “as a way to help the post office deal with billions of dollars in debt.” In addition, CAGW has been active in the area of management of federal real property.  Due to a combination of negative incentives and unnecessary red tape, selling federal real estate is a long, costly process.  Reforms are essential, because Uncle Sam owns more real property than any other entity in America: 900,000 buildings and structures covering 3.38 billion square feet.  The OMB estimates that 55,000 properties are underutilized or entirely vacant; maintenance on these properties costs taxpayers $1.7 billion annually.  According to the latest version of CAGW’s Prime Cuts, taxpayers could save $3 billion over one year and $15 billion over five years if the federal government sold off excess real property. Finally, CAGW has been active in the area of DOD weapons systems acquisition, where the DOD’s Major Defense Acquisition Program has long plagued taxpayers.  The MDAP is made up of 98 defense programs that require either a total expenditure of more than $365 million for research, testing, development, and evaluation, or more than $2.19 billion for procurement.  The GAO released its annual report on the subject in March 2012, stating that the cost of these programs over the past year “has grown by over $74.4 billion or 5 percent, of which about $31.1 billion can be attributed to factors such as inefficiencies in production.”  A small number of programs account for a large portion of the cost overruns; the Joint Strike Fighter program alone accounted for approximately $39 billion, or 52 percent of the total cost growth. While the GAO removed the high-risk designation from two areas, two more were added:

  • Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks. Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.
  • Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data. Potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have led to concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings—including warnings of extreme events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and floods—will be less accurate and timely. A number of decisions are needed to ensure contingency and continuity plans can be implemented effectively.

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