House rethinks GAO overhaul

The leadership of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee has begun to rethink its plans to restructure the General Accounting Office, in light of recent testimony opposing some aspects of the committee's draft legislation.

A committee staff member said the most controversial recommendation would reduce the 15-year tenure of the comptroller general, possibly to 10 years. Other proposals would reduce the number of reports GAO produces each year and transfer some of the agency's reporting functions to the executive branch.

The bill might also include a provision installing an inspector general at GAO.

"We heard more people in opposition than we expected," the staff member said.

An aide on the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology said subcommittee chairman Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) plans to meet with committee chairman Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) and minority leaders to determine how to proceed with the legislation.

"Nothing was really decided at the hearing," she said. "Most of the witnesses didn't like some of the legislation. Mr. Horn said he wants to review the legislation, and that's where it stands now."

Committee members believe GAO can save millions of dollars a year by eliminating many of the reports it routinely generates at the request of Congress. They believe many of these reports were requested years ago and are no longer read by people on Capitol Hill.

They have begun circulating a list among congressional committees of reports produced annually that will be recommended for elimination.

The bill will not tackle contract dispute resolution issues, the committee source said, because committee members considered the issue too complex to confront immediately and may revisit it within the next year or two.

Thomas Fritz, president and chief executive officer of the Private Sector Council, testified that Congress should not continue to reduce GAO's staff, particularly those employees working with information technology.

IT professionals will be valuable and in short supply in the coming years, he said, and GAO will need to retain its share of that brain power.

Comptroller General Charles Bowsher opposed the idea of reducing the tenure of the comptroller general. He asserted that the post must remain untied to partisan concerns.

John Koskinen, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said GAO's mission and its existing "internal evaluation function" eliminate the need for it to have an inspector general.

Koskinen also opposed a section of the committee's draft legislation allowing GAO to take sworn testimony.

"Much of GAO's work is done on an informal basis," he said. "Creating an atmosphere where every piece of information may trigger an immediate request for testimony under oath will be counterproductive."

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