GAO could get more muscle with new bill

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.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 Melson3 Washington DC

In response to the first comment, the author is apparently unaware that GAO is the investigative arm of the Congress, and is itself subject to frequent questioning by members of Congress, who also have the right to request internal documentation of GAO's work (which is also subject to the FOIA). Further, GAO's processes are routinely (annually) reviewed by expert independent external entities, and sometimes improved as a result. In response to the second comment, which complains (almost incoherently) about the fact that amendments are added onto legislation as it moves through the Congress, I doubt the commenter objects to all the "pork" that has been added over the years in whatever district he/she lives in, by their own member of Congress. These "anti-waste" fanatics only object when someone else gets something. Realistically, the amount of "pork" added each year by Congress is a miniscule percentage of total federal spending. If this person does attemp to write a book, perhaps they could use coherent sentence structure, correct grammar, and so forth.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 Boomer4

Good news. GAO reports provide important Congressional and public oversight of programs empowered to spend funds. If people would read more GAO reports, they would be better informed and perhaps offer mroe constructive suggestions to their elected representatives.

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

Sounds like the fox guarding the hen house. Who is going to investigate the GAO?

Wed, Mar 20, 2013

First, thing we need to eliminate is the attachments to bills that end up putting waste so Senators and Congressman can feel good about a bill that passed. Their jobs are not about feel good, they will feel good when the country is not in the mess we are in now because they put us there with all the waste they keep attaching to important amendments that need to be passed. If they can not do the right thing and feel good about it they need to step down and let someone else take care of the problem. Blaming the President is not getting it done, even though he VETO's a bill they can still get it passed so just grow up. Do we need a book called "The book of Dummies for Senators and Congessman". You maybe I should start writing this book maybe they can endorse it in the White house and start learning how to do the math up there.

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