GAO’s 2019 High-Risk List Update

GAO's High Risk List LogoToday we released our 2019 High Risk List, which includes 35 areas that we consider to be at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, or in need of transformation.

Since our 2017 report, the rankings for more than half of the areas on the list remain largely unchanged, with 3 regressing. In addition, 7 areas improved, 2 to the point of coming off the list.

Listen to Chris Mihm, Managing Director of our Strategic Issues team, discuss some highlights from our latest update, and read on for more:

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Additions to the list

We’ve added 2 new high-risk areas to our list since 2017:

Shelby Oakley, a director in our Contracting and National Security Acquisitions team, shares more about the VA acquisition management area in this video:

Areas needing special attention

This year, we singled out 9 areas that need special attention from policymakers:

  • Cybersecurity
  • The federal role in housing finance
  • The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation’s insurance programs
  • VA health care
  • Mission critical skills gaps in 16 areas
  • The 2020 Census
  • Areas relating to health care and tax law enforcement that involve billions of dollars in improper payments each year
  • Management of IT acquisitions and operations
  • The yawning tax gap

Areas removed from the list

Two areas showed enough progress this year to be removed from the High Risk List entirely:

  • DOD supply chain management: DOD took steps to improve the visibility of physical inventories, receipt processing, cargo tracking, and unit moves. Improved asset visibility has saved millions of dollars and allowed DOD to better meet mission needs.
  • Mitigating gaps in satellite data: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and DOD made significant strides in mitigating potential gaps in satellite data needed for weather forecasting.

High Risk at a glance

We update our High Risk report biannually, at the start of each new Congress, for lawmakers to use in setting their oversight agendas.

We use five criteria to assess progress on high-risk areas:

  • leadership commitment,
  • agency capacity,
  • an action plan,
  • monitoring efforts, and
  • demonstrated progress.

Watch our short video for a brief overview of the High Risk List:

When the High Risk List first launched in 1990, there were 14 areas. Over the years, there have been 48 additions, 26 removals, and 2 areas that were consolidated.

The federal government has made progress in addressing areas on our High Risk List over the last 13 years. Our work has saved nearly $350 billion in taxpayer money (an average of about $27 billion a year). In FY18, this number was $47 billion—the highest we’ve ever reported.

Learn more in our full report or on our High Risk page.


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact J. Christopher Mihm at mihmj@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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