GAO lists climate change as high risk to government for first time

The US Government Accountability Office—which has identified areas it believes pose a high risk to federal government operations every 2 years since the early 1990s—added climate change to its list for the first time.

“Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations, insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program, and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters,” it observed in a Feb. 14 report.

“The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks,” the congressional government watchdog service maintained.

It also added potential weather satellite gaps, which could begin as early as 2014 and last as long as 53 months, to its latest high-risk inventory.

GAO identified 30 high-risk areas in its February 2011 report. It removed two of them—interagency contract management and US Internal Revenue Service business systems modernization—because significant progress has been made. Notable progress has been made in the last 2 years on the list’s other high-risk areas, it said.

US President Barack Obama cited climate change as an area of concern in both his 2013 Inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

Congressional Democrats responded to climate change’s addition to GAO’s government high-risk inventory. US Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, and US Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, applauded GAO’s action. They co-chair a bicameral climate change task force that was formed following Obama’s inaugural address.

US Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ranking minority member, asked committee chairman Darrel E. Issa (R-Calif.) to hold a series of hearings examining implications of GAO’s identifying climate change as a significant government risk.

“Although some may continue to disregard the science, this report warns that climate change is real, it is here now, and the economic consequences to our nation will be catastrophic if Congress ignores it any longer,” Cummings said in a letter to Issa.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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