Congress: Do we need all those GAO reports?

The Government Accountability Office says it has saved the government billions through its investigations and reports, but the watchdog agency may be producing less of those in coming years if some lawmakers get their way.

On June 20 Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management introduced the GAO Mandates Revision Act, which would cut down on the number of “unnecessary and outdated congressionally mandated” GAO audits and reviews, according to a press release from Carper’s office. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), homeland security and governmental affairs committee chairman, and ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“My subcommittee on federal financial management relies heavily on the [GAO] to identify areas of waste and reduce inefficiency within the federal government, and I think it is time we adopt a similar effort to reduce redundant or unnecessary requirements for the [GAO],” Carper said in the release announcing the proposed legislation. “Streamlining the requirements that Congress places on the [GAO] will allow this critical agency to continue to focus its limited resources on its most important work and help Americans get a better bang for their taxpayer buck.”

According to the release, GAO is weighed down by inefficiencies such as annual reviews requested by Congress that have no end date and must be continued until the original statute is changed. It lists as one example ongoing reviews of an export-import allowance program for Haiti said to be virtually inactive.

It isn’t the first time Congress has looked to make cuts to GAO. Last year Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) introduced a bill to make deep cuts in the 2012 budget to the legislative branch, including the GAO, but was met with harsh criticism by other lawmakers.

The agency escaped the worst cuts in the 2012 budget, but now could face further financial peril in 2013. Its 2013 budget requests a 2.9 percent increase, which Nelson in a March 15 Senate hearing said “may be too much growth” given the current budgetary climate, according to a Federal News Radio report.

According to the GAO, $526.2 million was requested for fiscal 2013 to support a staffing level of 3,100 – the lowest in more than 75 years. The agency noted that it has yielded the government financial benefits of $45.7 billion, a return on investment of $81 for every dollar invested in GAO.

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