Oversight Committee Held Hearing Examining 2021 GAO High-Risk Report
Washington D.C. (Mar. 2, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a bipartisan hearing examining the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2021 High-Risk List, a new report of the 36 areas of federal operations most in need of improvement or transformation to meet the nation’s challenges.
“The Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List is a blueprint of opportunities to make America safer, stronger, more fair, and more prosperous,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “Over the past four years, the objective metrics of the High-Risk List show that the federal government improved less, and regressed more, than before the former President took office. With the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the nation, the need for an effective, efficient, functional, and responsive federal government has never been greater. Congress and the executive branch must work together strategically on high-risk areas so federal agencies are in the best position possible to serve the American people through this time of crisis.”
Members heard testimony from Gene L. Dodaro, GAO Comptroller General, as they discussed the items in the 2021 High-Risk report such as the SolarWinds cyberattack against at least nine federal agencies and over a hundred private companies.
Chairwoman Maloney asked Comptroller General Dodaro if following this blueprint would have reduced the severity of the ongoing SolarWinds cyberattack.
The Comptroller General explained that if the Trump Administration had specifically addressed GAO’s 145 open recommendations to better manage information technology supply chain issues and appointed a National Cyber Director to coordinate federal cybersecurity policy, we would have been better postured to detect the attack and take quicker action. He testified: “Eighty percent of the computing assets in this country are in private sector hands. We can’t effectively combat this issue without sharing between the private sector and the government sector.”
Congresswoman Holmes Norton asked Comptroller Dodaro if infrastructure improvements that create jobs and cut emissions, such as President Biden’s Build Back Better plan that calls for $2 trillion in infrastructure investments, would be a prudent investment to address multiple high-risk areas simultaneously.
Comptroller General Dodaro testified: “It’s very important that we as country invest in our infrastructure,” and added, “we need to have financing and support available for improving surface transportation.” He continued: “There needs to be more investment in the electricity grid and other areas to build in better resilience to those areas, so there’s a wide range of needs in the infrastructure area and it would directly address some of the areas on the High-Risk List.”
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib highlighted the high-risk issues of climate change and toxic chemical exposure, noting the report’s finding that the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program had not completed a single chemical risk assessment from August 2018 to December 2020.
Comptroller General Dodaro testified: “We rated the EPA area as an area that regressed because the Administration had been proposing to cut the IRIS budget.” GAO Director Mark Gaffigan added: “We would just like to see the assessments done because they’re important to everyone’s health.” He also stressed the need for agencies to make progress on environmental justice: “We found that the plans were not updated. There was a lack of performance measures around the issue of environmental justice, affecting particularly communities of color, and that’s a huge need going forward.”
Congresswoman Cori Bush explained how the high-risk areas highlighted in the report have left 350,000 people in her community with confirmed or suspected exposure to radioactive waste along Coldwater Creek in Missouri.
GAO Director Mark Gaffigan stated: “The reason we put this on the list is because we think this is just the tip of the iceberg. We think there are a lot more places like Coldwater Creek around the country that need to be identified and we need to figure out to what degree we are going to clean them up.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier focused on combatting fraud and abuse in emergency loan programs for small businesses intended to help them weather the pandemic, and expressed particular concern about loans below the Small Business Administration’s $2 million threshold for review.
Mr. Dodaro explained GAO’s recommendation that SBA should create a plan to review loans of all sizes based on sampling or risk analysis, and noted that the Inspectors General and the Justice Department are working on rooting out fraud. He testified: “One of the reasons I think it’s important to look at loans of all sizes is that a lot of people committing fraud purposefully stay at a low level and try to hit several different times to stay under the radar screen.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley submitted this statement for Comptroller General Dodaro about the inclusion of the Bureau of Prisons as an emerging area of concern in the 2021 High-Risk report:
“For far too long, mass incarceration has institutionalized systemic racism, denied Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks of our dignity, and inflicted pain and suffering on families across the nation. And with today’s report, the GAO makes the case that our prison system is woefully mismanaged. The GAO made 19 recommendations to BOP in the last five years, but 16 of the recommendations have been ignored. This work is far from over.”