Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks

This assessment, prepared by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), is included in the GAO’s 2015 High Risk Report that identifies agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation.

Climate Change Risk was added to the High Risk List in 2013. This report is updated every two years at the start of each new Congress. The report is broken down into subsections: Why It’s High Risk, What We Found, What Remains To Be Done, Key Reports, and Related GAO Links.

Five areas are suggested where government-wide improvement is necessary to reduce fiscal exposure: the government’s role as

  1. leader of a strategic plan that coordinated federal efforts and informs state, local and private-sector action,
  2. the owner or operator of extensive infrastructure such as defense facilities and federal property vulnerable to climate impacts,
  3. the insurer of property and crops vulnerable to climate impacts,
  4. the provider of data and technical assistance to federal, state, local, and private-sector decision makers responsible for managing the impacts of climate change on their activities, and
  5. the provider of aid in response to disasters.

A focal strategy described in the report to reduce climate impacts is enhancing resilience, especially through state and local authorities in their capacity to implement infrastructure projects, such as raising dikes to protect against sea level rise, building higher bridges, and increasing storm water system capacities. Also emphasized is the need to continue reducing greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the magnitude of climate change.

The GAO supports the recommendations of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience established by Executive Order 13653. The recommendations discussed in the report include incorporating resilient design standards in federal facilities; finalizing guidelines for considering climate impacts in NEPA evaluations; providing resources for state, local, and tribal decision making and investments; and prioritizing projects for disaster recovery programs that consider climate. A final key element for climate to be removed from the high-risk list is the designation of a senior administration official to facilitate cross-agency coordination and establish benchmarks for implementation and progress reporting.

In addition to broad strategic challenges regarding leadership, collaboration, and funding, specific areas requiring federal attention identified in the report include federal property and resources; federal flood and crop insurance programs; technical assistance to federal, state, local, and private-sector decision makers; environmental satellites; and disaster aid.

In 2014, the GAO published a related report, "Extreme Weather Events: Limiting Federal Fiscal Exposure and Increasing the Nation's Resilience." 






Publication Date: February 11, 2015

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