“The federal government is terribly exposed to this change,” Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general and director of the Government Accountability Office, said in announcing why climate change made his agency’s high-risk list. “The government needs a much more strategic and centralized approach.”
The government owns vast swaths of land, runs flood and crop insurance programs with millions of policyholders and regularly pours billions of dollars into emergency aid. But it has no system to address these costs as global warming escalates them, the GAO said in a report on the high-risk list. A White House task force “has no mechanisms for making or enforcing important decisions and priorities,’’ the report said.
Gaps in accurate weather forecasts are expected because a program to launch the next generation of polar satellites has a “troubled legacy of cost overruns, missed milestones, technical problems, and management challenges,” auditors wrote. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a gap of up to two years after existing satellites wear out, but GAO said the new ones could be delayed as long as 53 months.
In the meantime, weather forecasts will be less accurate, with shorter warning times on hurricanes, floods and storm surges, auditors said.
Although NOAA is looking for ways to compensate, its steps “are only the beginning,” the report said.
The high-risk list, released at the start of each Congress, is a to-do list for committees that oversee government operations. This year’s list of 30 problem areas includes federal oversight of food safety, management of government real estate and federal oil and gas resources, several military management systems, fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and a shortage of federal workers with crucial skills as retirements increase.
Six areas have been on the list since it was created in the 1990s, including Medicare and management of the military supply chain.
Two long-standing problems fell off this year: management of contracting among federal agencies and the Internal Revenue Service’s modernization of its business systems.
Dodaro said contracting has improved since the days when “there was no appropriate competition and interrogators in Iraq came from an information technology contractor.” The IRS, “mired in technological and management programs for years,” has made “slow, steady progress” updating taxpayer records and using industry best practices, he said.
Lawmakers in charge of government oversight said that while Americans may disagree about the science of climate change, Congress must address its financial fallout.