The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report that the government is missing out on generating up to $182 billion in savings and financial benefits for taxpayers because Federal agencies are slow to implement – or won’t take action at all – thousands of recommendations from the government watchdog agency.

GAO makes thousands of recommendations per year to Federal agencies and other government entities – many of which are put into action and generate financial savings for taxpayers.

But thousands more – GAO’s current count of “open” or unimplemented recommendations stands at 5,226 – either linger in limbo or never end up acted upon at all by the agencies that receive them.

Those add up to big money. GAO says that if agencies implement the 5,226 recommendations that were open as of May 8, 2023, then they could produce $92 billion to $182 billion in financial benefits.

“Our recommendations to federal agencies and our matters for congressional consideration produce measurable financial benefits for the government,” GAO’s June 27 report says. “Over the past 3 years, our work has resulted in annual financial benefits ranging from $55 billion to more than $76 billion.”

The watchdog agency’s estimate of unrealized savings and future financial benefits relies on a simulation model that found that implementing all 5,226 recommendations and matters could produce $92 billion to $182 billion of measurable, future financial benefits. Eighty percent of the total simulated financial benefits fell in this range, GAO says. The model produced a median simulated value of approximately $131 billion.

“GAO has previously reported that, based on available estimates for individual recommendations and matters, tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits could be achieved if GAO’s open recommendations and matters were fully implemented,” the agency said.

The watchdog agency sent the new report to Congress and the nine agencies with the largest number of open recommendations and matters: Departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Office of Management and Budget.

Some of the longest-running of GAO’s recommendations – involving issues like cybersecurity – are featured on its high-risk list for government.

The agency’s high-risk list identifies and helps resolve serious weaknesses in areas that involve substantial resources and provide critical services to the public. In order to get off the high-risk list, agencies and Congress must take actions to improve the program and fully implement GAO’s recommendations.

“GAO’s recommendations for executive action and matters for congressional consideration consistently produce measurable financial benefits for the federal government,” the report says.

“When agencies or Congress act on GAO recommendations and matters, government expenditures are often reduced, funds put to better use, or federal revenues increased,” GAO says. “This work also results in better services to the public and improved government operations, but these other benefits cannot easily be measured in dollar terms.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.