Risky Business

The General Accounting Office added five programs to its "high-risk" list of troubled and costly federal operations yesterday, prompting Members of Congress to say they would seriously scrutinize the projects.

GAO has now identified 25 programs that it says are at high risk for fraud, abuse, mismanagement or waste. They include several Defense Department programs, the IRS' Tax Systems Modernization effort, and agency efforts to manage information technology projects, loan programs, and major contracts. The primary problem with the programs is a lack of accountability, GAO said.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., said he was deeply disturbed by the report.

"We do have a number of new laws which address these serious problems, including the Government Performance and Results Act," Thompson said. "But we need to implement and enforce these laws if we are to improve the situation."

The five programs added to GAO's list are:

  • Supplemental Security Income
    This Social Security Administration program paid over $22 billion to low-income beneficiaries last year, and overpayments have grown to more than $1 billion a year. SSA has trouble verifying recipients' self-reported information.
  • The 2000 Census
    GAO says the administration and Congress need to agree on a way to do an accurate census in 2000 while reining in costs. GAO warns that the longer an agreement is delayed, "the more likely it will be that the government will have spent billions of dollars and still have demonstrably inaccurate results."
  • Defense Infrastructure
    DOD's laboratories have an estimated excess capacity of 35 percent. Overhead costs for transportation services are two to three times the basic cost of transportation. Aging and underutilized buildings and roads are being maintained even though they will likely be obsolete in the near future. GAO believes DoD can significantly reduce its annual infrastructure costs, which are now $146 billion.
  • Information Security
    GAO officials say they have "repeatedly made dozens of recommendations to agencies to improve information security." Poor security management threatens billions of dollars in assets and could allow unauthorized access to sensitive data, GAO says.
  • The Year 2000 Problem
    Computer applications with six-digit date coding will think 01-01-00 means 1900, not 2000, when the new millennium begins. That will cause systems to fail and data to be corrupted. Unless it is resolved in time, "widespread operational and financial impacts could affect federal, state, and local governments, foreign governments, and private sector organizations worldwide," GAO says.

Thompson said he would invite federal officials to testify on the high-risk programs in the coming months.

To read the GAO High Risk Series, click here.

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