GAO removes major management problems from high-risk list

The General Accounting Office's high-risk list shrunk this year, marking significant progress toward solving some of the federal government's biggest management problems.

GAO released its latest high-risk list, which identifies government agencies and programs vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, on Wednesday. The list was streamlined from 26 to 22 high-risk agencies and governmentwide management problems.

"The story revealed in GAO's 2001 report is, in many respects, a hopeful one. Several programs previously designated as 'high-risk' have been taken off the list, or their scope has been reduced, and considerable progress has been made on those that remain," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Wednesday during a press conference staged for the report's release. Lieberman serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs until Saturday.

The year 2000 computer challenge, the 2000 Census, the Superfund Program, farm loan programs and the National Weather Service's modernization effort all fell off GAO's high-risk list. GAO compiles its Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Update every other year. The first compilation was in 1999, but GAO has periodically named high-risk agencies and programs since 1990.

GAO attributed the government's success in tackling the Y2K computer bug to "top-level management attention, risk analysis and project management." The Census Bureau was removed from the list because the 2000 census was completed on time and with an increased mail response. The Department of Agriculture reduced the number of delinquent borrowers in its farm loan program and corrective actions were taken to overhaul the Superfund Program, measures which removed both programs from the high-risk list.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Program was also removed from the list, largely because HUD's 2020 Management Reform Plan was "substantially complete," GAO said. HUD's community development program represented one-third of the agency's operations. HUD has been on the high-risk list since 1994. "We fought to restore trust in HUD and its vital mission and now we have succeeded in giving the department and more importantly, the people and communities we serve, a better and brighter future," HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

At the Internal Revenue Service, tax filing fraud was narrowed to focus on the Earned Income Tax Credit and the unpaid tax collection program was expanded. The agency's tax systems modernization has been on the list since 1995. In the ten years since GAO began compiling the high-risk list, it has nearly tripled, growing from eight agencies to 22 agencies. In fact, eight agencies have been on the list since 1990 and another eight have languished on the list since 1995. "We seem to be unable to get at the core performance problems facing the federal government," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. "And some of the ludicrous situations that we often uncover make you wonder if anyone is even trying to fix these problems." Thompson and Lieberman met with officials from the major federal agencies in an effort to find out what actions were being taken to resolve the management issues. "We can use the high-risk list to motivate agencies and programs to be better," Thompson said, noting that he and other committee members would continue to make these issues a priority. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said Thursday that he will hold hearings on GAO's report in February. "It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work," he said in a statement.

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