GAO could get more muscle with new bill

Legislation would clarify and expand investigative powers.

Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa together

Reps. Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa introduced a bill to enhance GAO's investigative powers. (Oversight and Government Reform Committee photo)

A bill aimed to bolster the investigative powers of the Government Accountability Office was introduced last week and is now headed to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for consideration.

The Government Accountability Office Improvement Act, introduced March 14, explicitly empowers GAO to create and maintain copies of agency records, as well as administer oaths to witnesses when performing reviews and investigations. The watchdog also has the authority to access certain categories of records, while ensuring sensitive or proprietary information are safe from public disclosure.

Additionally, the bill reaffirms the comptroller general's authority to pursue litigation to compel access to federal agency information.

"The GAO's work is vital to Congress and to this committee in particular," said committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who introduced the bill with Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). "Congress must have current information on how federal programs are performing in order to both legislate effectively and to conduct meaningful oversight."

Under the bill, GAO investigators would be provided the tools they need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, Cummings said, something a GAO spokesman also reiterated to FCW.

"The bill would help to improve GAO's access to documents that help us do our work, and we thank Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings for their support," the spokesman said.

The empowerment effort comes as GAO has warned that diminished staffing could affect the agency's effectively. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro testified before Congress on Feb. 26 that GAO "has dramatically reduced its staffing level and operating costs" over the past three years. The agency's head count "dropped by 350 full-time equivalents in fiscal year 2012," Dodaro said, "falling below 3,000 FTE for the first time since 1935."

The full committee will consider the bill March 20.

NEXT STORY: DOD launches strategic review

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