Climate change and gaps in weather satellite data have been officially added to the list of high risks facing the federal government, a list that already includes the federal flood insurance program, Medicare and the Post Office.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said limiting the federal government’s fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks and mitigating gaps in weather satellite data are two of the new additions to the government’s high risk list.
In addition, two other areas—management of interagency contracting and IRS business systems modernization—were removed from the list because of sufficient progress in addressing vulnerabilities.
The changes were part of the a biennial update to its list of federal programs and operations at “high risk” for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or needing broad-based transformation. With these changes, a total of 30 programs and operations are on the current high-risk list.
The watchdog agency updates the list every two years at the start of each new Congress.
Gene L. Dodaro, U.S. comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, released the 2013 list at a briefing on Capitol Hill with leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Dodaro said the GAO added the government’s fiscal exposure from climate change to the list because the government owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. Yet, the GAO said, 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.”
GAO also said that potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have raised concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings, including those for hurricanes, storm surges, and floods, will be less accurate and timely. GAO said it added this area “because a number of decisions are needed to ensure that contingency and continuity plans will be implemented effectively.”
The GAO said that since the 2011 update, sufficient progress has been made in some areas to drop them from the list, including development of business systems in the IRS, the management of federal oil and gas resources and the strengthening Department of Homeland Security management functions, and the Department of Energy’s contract management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management.
There were 14 areas on the high risk list when the program was started in 1990. Since then, there have been 41 additions, 23 removals (eight of which were among the original 14), and two areas that were consolidated.
Among the other risks on the list are the financial viability of the U.S. Post Office; Department of Defense infrastructure, management and supply chain issues; methods for sharing terrorism-related information; Medicare; Medicaid and the National Flood Insurance Program.
The complete 2013 High Risk List is available online at http://www.gao.gov/highrisk.