GAO begs Hill for money
- By William Matthews
- Jul 19, 2000
Will somebody feed the watchdog?
After almost a decade of personnel cuts and budget reductions, the General
Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog, has developed a lean and hungry look.
Its staff has shrunk from 5,325 to 3,275, its budget has slid from more
than $400 million to slightly more than $300 million a year. Even so, its
workload has not diminished.
The agency, which conducts investigations, performs audits and analyzes
issues for Congress, is now asking lawmakers for help.
Without some assistance, GAO is "not well-positioned to do our job in
the future," Comptroller General David Walker told the House Government
Management Information and Technology Subcommittee Tuesday.
The agency that blew the whistle when the Internal Revenue Service wasted
$3 billion on a computer modernization that failed, called attention to
numerous government computer systems riddled with security problems and
has badgered scores of agencies about waste and ineptitude, finds itself
Deep budget cuts between 1992 and 1997 forced the agency to stop hiring
and start firing. As a result, GAO is top-heavy with staff members who are
nearing retirement age, has a shortage of younger workers and lacks certain
scientific and technically trained experts, including information technology
specialists, Walker said.
Meanwhile, "requests for GAO's services have never been higher," he
said. The agency receives about 50 requests each week to conduct studies
for congressional committee chairmen, ranking members and individual members
The demands are expected to continue to grow in an era when Congress
is pressing for accountability in government. Walker said GAO returns $57
to the government for every $1 spent on it.
In 1999, for example, GAO recommendations yielded $20 billion in "direct
financial benefits" to the federal government, Walker said.
Even while piling on the work, Congress has remained quite penurious.
The Senate proposes a modest 2.5 percent budget increase for 2001, but the
House proposes a 2 percent cut.
It is hard to attract good staff members when the workload is increasing
and job security is declining, Walker said.
As part of an effort to turn GAO around, Walker asked for authority
to let retirement-age workers shift from full-time to part-time work without
losing access to their pensions. He also asked Congress to help newly graduated
employees pay off college debts as an incentive to join GAO. Most new hires
have master's and doctoral degrees, and many have substantial debt, he noted.