Upcoming Reports on Major National Issues

GAO exists to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. GAO's efforts are guided by four strategic goals, three of which focus on the external outcomes we seek to achieve. (The fourth strategic goal is to maximize the value of GAO by being a model federal agency and a world-class professional services organization.) Visit GAO's Strategic Plan 2007-2012 for more information.

Following are examples, organized by three of GAO's strategic goals, of some of the reports on major national issues that GAO will issue in the coming months.

GAO Strategic Goal 1

Provide timely, quality service to the Congress and the federal government to address current and emerging challenges to the well-being and financial security of the American people. This goal includes such issues as health care needs, lifelong learning, work benefits and protection, financial security, an effective system of justice, viable communities, use of natural resources and environmental protection, and physical infrastructure.

A Comprehensive and Integrated Strategy to Address Energy Needs

Multiple interrelated federal programs and policies affect decisions about energy supply and demand, climate and environmental impact, infrastructure, technology, security, and market function. GAO will be discussing current and proposed approaches to defining goals and plans to provide reliable, secure, cost-competitive, efficient, sustainable, and environmentally sound energy.

Addressing Climate Change

GAO will discuss policy options and the associated trade-offs involving economic effects, international cooperation, energy production and consumption, and effects on the environment.

Addressing Domestic Infrastructure Needs

The aging energy, transportation, and water infrastructure in the United States will require hundreds of billions of dollars to cover repair, construction, and expansion costs over the next few decades. The challenge the government faces is implementing practical solutions that will address the existing funding gaps.

Adequacy of the Existing Federal Land Management Framework

New challenges facing federal land management agencies have called into question the adequacy of the existing administrative and legal framework for managing federal lands.

Assuring Retirement Income Security

GAO is examining key issues related to income security, including restoring fiscal sustainability to Social Security, bolstering retirement security by extending private pension coverage and benefit adequacy, ensuring the financial stability of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and fostering the labor force participation of older workers.

Controlling Medicare Costs and Ensuring Reliable Data

As Congress considers changes to payment policies as well as broader health care reform, GAO will highlight mechanisms by which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can reduce improper payments, ensure appropriate payment for necessary services under Medicare, and ensure the availability of reliable information for policymakers and others.

Effectively Managing and Overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program

The unprecedented government intervention into the nation's credit markets and the creation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to stabilize them will require both effective management and diligent oversight. See: Urgent Issues: Financial Institutions and Markets.

Ensuring Environmental Protection

The Nation faces ever increasing challenges in ensuring that the government's environmental protection policies and programs are anchored in sound science, based on adequate information, fiscally responsible and effectively enforced.

Ensuring Safe and Sound Banking

The current financial crisis has made the task of ensuring a safe and sound banking system more important and more difficult. Recent events including the collapse of the investment bank model has resulted in banking regulators having to regulate and supervise larger, more complex institutions. See: Urgent Issues: Financial Institutions and Markets.

FAA Financing and Reauthorization

FAA's reauthorization is overdue, but disagreements over funding mechanisms and other issues have delayed action needed to reform programs and provide funding.

Financial Condition of the Postal Service

Despite recent reforms, the Postal Service will have lost nearly $3 billion in 2008 because of economic conditions that influenced mail volumes and high fixed costs, among other reasons. Actions to reduce fixed costs and find other sources of revenue will be crucial to reverse this trend.

Food Issues from Farm to Table: Production, Safety, Defense, and Distribution

GAO will examine the efficiency and effectiveness of selected federal programs that address issues from the farm to the table, including food production, safety, defense, and distribution.

Impacts of Coastal Development

The future health and prosperity of the nation's coastal areas are being jeopardized by coastal development and associated sprawl, pollution, worsening storm damage, and rising sea levels. Ensuring the long-term environmental and economic viability of the nation's coasts will pose challenging environmental, economic, and social problems that could touch almost every area of public policy and commerce.

Improving Educational Achievement, Access, and Completion to Enhance U.S. Competitiveness

The United States economy will continue to face challenges in the coming years in the form of increased economic competition from other countries, technological advances, and changing population demographics. In order to meet these challenges, it will be important for the U.S. education system to improve the academic achievement of all students and enable students to access and complete postsecondary education.

Reforming the U.S. Financial Regulatory System to Reflect 21st Century Realities

The current crisis facing the nation's financial markets is one of the most dramatic examples of the ineffectiveness of the regulatory system in overseeing the complexity of U.S. markets, institutions, and products that have rapidly evolved over the last 30 years. See: Urgent Issues: Financial Institutions and Markets.

Restoring Confidence in Financial Markets

The current financial crisis has been exacerbated by a lack of confidence not only in the financial markets but also among counterparties. This crisis has also highlighted the inadequacy of market transparency, largely from new and complex structured finance products and risk management weaknesses at some large financial institutions that failed to identify and manage risk exposures. See: Urgent Issues: Financial Institutions and Markets.

Restoring the Functioning of Mortgage Markets

Default and foreclosure rates for home mortgages have soared to record levels and the resulting turmoil has severely impacted credit markets, further limiting financing options for current and prospective homeowners. Moreover, the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the government-sponsored enterprises established to create a secondary market for mortgages—raises questions about how they can be restructured when they emerge from conservatorship to avoid a repeat of the current crisis. See: Urgent Issues: Financial Institutions and Markets.

Revenue from Federal Oil and Gas Leasing

Opportunities exist to increase federal revenues derived from the extraction of oil and natural gas from federal lands and waters through (1) improved oversight of royalties, and (2) comprehensively reassessing federal oil and gas royalty policy. Oversight of royalties and revenue collection policy are in need of comprehensive reassessment.

Status of Digital TV Transition

Television signals will switch from analog to digital on February 17, 2009, and those viewers that have not made the proper arrangements, including purchasing and installing a converter box, will lose their signals. While federal agencies responsible for publicizing this transition and providing subsidies for converter boxes have taken steps to resolve the issue, some viewers may still lose their signals; this will be particularly problematic if poor weather or another emergency occurs. See: Urgent Issues: Ensuring an Effective Transition to Digital TV.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Financial Stability

The federal Highway Trust Fund faces a severe funding shortfall, the program's authorization expires in September 2009, and there is consensus that the program needs reform but little agreement on how to do it. Urgent attention and leadership are needed to address these issues early in the new administration. See: Urgent Issues: Restructuring the Federal Approach to Surface Transportation.

Telecomm Reform/FCC Management and Organization

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) faces significant challenges in regulating the fast-changing multibillion-dollar telecommunications field. The agency's essential organization has not changed to meet the industry's needs, and GAO has previously reported on gaps in FCC's ability to develop and manage data, performance measures, and other metrics useful to its regulatory mission.

Transforming Disability Policy

The Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs face ongoing challenges in managing their major disability programs, which are neither well-aligned with the 21st century environment nor positioned to provide meaningful and timely support.

GAO Strategic Goal 2:

Provide timely, quality service to the Congress and the federal government to respond to changing security threats and the challenges of global interdependence. This goal includes such issues as homeland security, military capabilities and readiness, advancement of U.S. interests, and global market forces.

Achieving Greater Fiscal Discipline in Defense Spending

The Department of Defense (DOD) faces rising costs and competing demands for resources as it seeks to support ongoing operations, rebuild readiness, and prepare for future threats. Achieving greater fiscal discipline requires a fundamental change in DOD's planning and budgeting processes, including adopting a more strategic approach that assesses risks, uses realistic planning assumptions, makes trade-offs, and aligns programs with available dollars. See Urgent Issues: Defense Spending.


As U.S. efforts to secure, stabilize, and rebuild Afghanistan continue, greater management attention and oversight are needed to ensure nascent infrastructure and institutions are sustained. Key challenges that will need to be addressed include: mitigating escalating violence; addressing record levels of opium poppy cultivation; and developing a coordinated and detailed U.S. plan that includes intermediate milestones and clearly defined roles at the Department of Defense and the Department of State for building, training, and equipping fully capable and sustainable Afghan National Security Forces. See: Advancing U.S. Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Balancing Homeland Security with Other National Priorities

In securing the homeland, all levels of government have had to balance their security responsibilities and resource needs with those of other national priorities. Key among these considerations have been weighing the costs and effects of security measures against the need to facilitate legitimate trade and travel; ensuring privacy and civil liberty protections for individuals in a post-9/11 environment; and determining resource allocations between homeland security missions and other vital needs—particularly during times of fiscal uncertainty.

Ensuring the Nation's Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Capabilities

The Department of Homeland Security faces continued challenges in clearly defining leadership roles and responsibilities for federal, state, and local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector; defining and developing necessary disaster preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities; and establishing accountability systems to provide effective response while also protecting against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Food Assistance and Food Security

As the largest international food aid donor providing more than $2 billion per year, the United States plays an important role in responding to emergency food assistance needs and ensuring global food security. U.S. agencies should improve the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering food aid, enhance efforts to address food insecurity, and implement newly required reforms, including improving logistics, enhancing food quality, and increasing oversight.

Improving the U.S. Image Abroad

In today's highly volatile global environment, it is more critical than ever that the United States effectively coordinate, manage, and implement its public diplomacy and strategic communications activities to affect public opinion. It is critical that U.S. policymakers improve the substance and coordination of government audience research efforts, rebuild an overseas workforce with requisite language capabilities, and devise human capital strategies that optimize chances for achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. See: Improving the United States Image Abroad.


The United States has spent 5 years and more than $800 billion to stabilize and rebuild Iraq. Much has changed since the United States articulated a strategy in January 2007 to stem the high levels of violence and foster national reconciliation. That strategy ended in July 2008 and needs to be updated to reflect the reductions in violence and address unmet goals. (See: Advancing U.S. Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

National Security Framework for Addressing 21st Century Challenges

This paper would discuss the changing roles and responsibilities of key national security agencies (e.g., the Departments of Defense and State, and the Agency for International Development); identify resources trends for these agencies (showing that DOD receives the lion's share of federal resources); discuss the adequacy of existing approaches and mechanisms for collaborating to achieve U.S. objectives; and raise options for Congress and a new administration to consider to enhance agency collaboration and unity of effort.


The United States, through DOD, State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and others, has provided billions of dollars in military, economic, and developmental assistance to the Pakistani government to enhance its ability to address the terrorist threat in tribal areas, as well as growing instability issues. These agencies need to work together and in conjunction with the Pakistani government to develop a comprehensive plan to address the terrorist threat and to enhance oversight and accountability over Pakistani reimbursement claims for coalition support funds. See: Advancing U.S. Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Restructuring DOD's Acquisition Process

Despite a sustained boost in funding, cost growth and schedule delays in DOD weapon system programs continue unabated. Across-the-board improvements in DOD's acquisition outcomes require fundamental changes to its requirements, funding, and acquisition systems.

GAO Strategic Goal 3:

Help transform the government by supporting a broad-based re-examination of federal programs. This goal includes such issues as the government's role in achieving national objectives, government transformation, key management challenges and program risks, and the fiscal position and financing of the government.

The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding (OFC)

Established by executive order in November 2005 to facilitate the coordination of federal policies and programs involved in the recovery of the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, OFC is set to expire in February 2009. Since rebuilding the Gulf Coast will take many more years to accomplish and involve the continuing investment of billions of dollars of federal funds, GAO will provide information to help inform Congress's and the administration's decision whether to extend OFC or pursue a different approach to foster the coordination of federal recovery efforts.

Government Reliance on Contractors

The federal government, including DOD, is increasingly relying on contractors to carry out its missions, with governmentwide spending on contractor services more than doubling over the past 10 years. Agencies have experienced challenges in determining which functions and activities should be performed by contractors; determining the appropriate roles, responsibilities, and mix of contractor and government personnel; and ensuring appropriate oversight.

State and Local Governments' Fiscal Challenges

The state and local sector faces daunting long-term and immediate fiscal pressures, which are exacerbated by the recent financial turmoil and pose a threat to the federal government's reliance on the sector for service delivery, especially to disadvantaged populations. GAO will provide an update of its state and local government fiscal model.

GAO Contact
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Chuck Young

Managing Director, Public Affairs


(202) 512-4800

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Ralph C. Dawn, Jr.

Managing Director, Congressional Relations


(202) 512-4400