Two Decades of Waste, Fraud and Abuse—Still No Fix
Policy + Politics

Two Decades of Waste, Fraud and Abuse—Still No Fix


When a student gets a bad grade in school, there are usually repercussions. When a business blows through its budget, heads roll. So, what happens when government programs and federal agencies get bad marks?
Usually nothing.

Since 1990, the Government Accountability Office has issued a “high risk” report at the start of each session of Congress listing the federal government agencies, programs and initiatives most vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. While the list has changed over time, many of the same programs – including Medicare and Defense Department supply chain management and weapon system acquisitions – have remained stubbornly at the top of the list.

“If your premise is how hard it is to get things to change, the high risk list has been around since 1990, and there are still some things on it that were put on it in the beginning,” GAO’s managing director of public affairs, Chuck Young, told The Fiscal Times.

Indeed, Medicare and DOD, the two biggest drains on government spending, have topped the high risk list for two decades and contributed to billions of dollars in wasteful spending, according to GAO. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform estimates that the federal government overall lost $261 billion in waste, fraud and abuse in 2012.

Six of the 30 programs included in the 2013 risk list released last week have been on the list since the first report in 1990. Medicare, programs within the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, and Enforcement of Tax Laws –all have been vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse for more than 23 years.
“Identifying these high-risk areas isn’t good enough anymore; not when Washington refuses to act to reform what’s so clearly broken,” Rep. Darrell Issa said during a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the report last week.   He added that 23 items on this year’s high-risk list have been on the list for more than a decade. 

In order to highlight some of the wasteful spending occurring within the federal government, Congress ordered the GAO in 2011 to submit an  annual report identifying agencies, programs and initiatives within the federal government that have duplicative, overlapping goals that contribute to wasteful spending. “This [overlap and duplication] is a new effort,” Young said yesterday. “It is just getting under way. Changes are happening. But it only deals with overlap and duplication. High risk has been on the books for a while and it is much wider across the scope of the government.” 
In its first report, the GAO recommended that 176 actions be taken by federal agencies and programs to reduce overlap and waste.  Of those actions the GAO requested be taken, only four or 5 percent of the total requests were fully addressed and implemented by federal agencies, according to the 2012 report. A new report identifying the most recent progress of the agencies will be released in April.