GAO has said that “sustained leadership, planning, and execution” by agencies—as well as attention from Congress and OMB—have proven to be the key factors in getting programs off its high-risk list.
That list, published every other year, identifies government operations at high risk of fraud, abuse, waste and mismanagement or that are in need of transformation. It includes some programs specific to individual agencies, some issues where responsibility is shared by several, and some cross-government areas such as personnel management.
Since 1990, 27 programs have been removed while concerns about seven others have been narrowed in scope, a report said. Significant progress has been made on another 17, no significant progress on another eight, and seven more had been either newly added or consolidated or require a change in law.
It said that best practices by agencies are: leadership commitment to initiate and sustain progress; having the capacity in skilled staff, adequate funding, internal controls, technology, and management and organization infrastructure to resolve key risks; an action plan to define the root causes and solutions and provide an approach for substantially completing corrective measures; monitoring to help agency leaders track and independently validate effectiveness and sustainability of corrective measures; and corrective measures that address the root causes of high-risk areas.
Federal personnel management—what GAO calls “strategic management of human capital”—was one of only five out of 36 on the 2021 list that regressed from 2019, which GAO blamed largely on a lack of Senate-confirmed OPM leadership during that time and lessened OPM oversight of agencies. It said that shortages of federal employees with needed skills, inadequate workforce planning, and a lack of training in critical skills contributed to the problems in 22 of the others.