Seal of the U.S. Government Accountability Office
Logo of the U.S. Government Accountability Office
Flag of the U.S. Government Accountability Office
|Formed||July 1, 1921|
|Headquarters||441 G St., NW|
Washington, D.C., U.S. 20548
|Employees||3,015 FTEs (2018)|
|Annual budget||$637 million (FY2019)|
|Measurable benefits of GAO work total $214.7 billion, a return of $338 for every dollar invested.|
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the United States Congress.It is the supreme audit institution of the federal government of the United States. It identifies its core "mission values" as: accountability, integrity, and reliability. It is also known as the "congressional watchdog".
The work of the GAO is done at the request of congressional committees or subcommittees or is mandated by public laws or committee reports. It also undertakes research under the authority of the Comptroller General. It supports congressional oversight by:
Products of the GAO include the following:
The GAO also produces special publications on specific issues of general interest to many Americans, such as its report on the fiscal future of the United States, GAO's role in the federal bid protest process, and critical issues for congressional consideration related to improving the nation's image abroad.
The GAO was established as the General Accounting Office by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. The act required the head of the GAO to
"investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President … and to Congress … reports [and] recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures".
According to the GAO's current mission statement, the agency exists to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.
The name was changed in 2004 to the Government Accountability Office by the GAO Human Capital Reform Act to better reflect the mission of the office. [ citation needed ] The GAO's auditors conduct not only financial audits, but also engage in a wide assortment of performance audits.
Over the years, the GAO has been referred to as "The Congressional Watchdog" and "The Taxpayers' Best Friend" for its frequent audits and investigative reports that have uncovered waste and inefficiency in government. News media often draw attention to the GAO's work by publishing stories on the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of its reports. Members of Congress also frequently cite the GAO's work in statements to the press, congressional hearings, and floor debates on proposed legislation. In 2007 the Partnership for Public Service ranked the GAO second on its list of the best places to work in the federal government and Washingtonian magazine included the GAO on its 2007 list of great places to work in Washington, a list that encompasses the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the U.S., a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government. The comptroller general is appointed by the president, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a fifteen year, non-renewable term. The president selects a nominee from a list of at least three individuals recommended by an eight-member bipartisan, bicameral commission of congressional leaders. During such term, the comptroller general has standing to pursue litigation to compel access to federal agency information. The comptroller general may not be removed by the president, but only by Congress through impeachment or joint resolution for specific reasons.Since 1921, there have been only seven comptrollers general, and no formal attempt has ever been made to remove a comptroller general.
Labor-management relations became fractious during the nine-year tenure of the seventh comptroller general, David M. Walker. On September 19, 2007, GAO analysts voted by a margin of two to one (897–445), in a 75% turnout, to establish the first union in the GAO's 86-year history. The analysts voted to affiliate with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), a member union of the AFL-CIO. There are more than 1,800 analysts in the GAO analysts bargaining unit; the local voted to name itself IFPTE Local 1921, in honor of the date of the GAO's establishment. On February 14, 2008, the GAO analysts' union approved its first-ever negotiated pay contract with management; of just over 1,200 votes, 98% were in favor of the contract.
The GAO also establishes standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions, and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernmental organizations. These standards, often referred to as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), are to be followed by auditors and audit organizations when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. These standards pertain to auditors' professional qualifications, the quality of audit effort, and the characteristics of professional and meaningful audit reports.
In 1992, the GAO hosted the XIV INCOSAI, the fourteenth triennial convention of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI).
The GAO is a United States government electronic data provider, as all of its reports are available on its website, [ citation needed ] The variety of topics reported on range from Federal Budget and Fiscal Issues to Financial Management, Education, Retirement Issues, Defense, Homeland Security, Administration of Justice, Health Care, Information Management and Technology, Natural Resources, Environment, International Affairs, Trade, Financial Markets, Housing, Government Management and Human Capital, and Science and Technology Assessment and Analytics. The GAO often produces highlights of its reports that serve as a statement for the record for various subcommittees of the United States Congress.except for certain reports whose distribution is limited to official use in order to protect national security.
Most GAO studies and reports are initiated by requests from members of Congress, including requests mandated in statute, and so reflect concerns of current political import, for example to study the impact of a government-wide hiring freeze. [ citation needed ] The GAO also produces annual reports on key issues such as Duplication and Cost savings and High-Risk Update.Many reports are issued periodically and take a long view of U.S. agencies' operations.
The GAO prepares some 900 reports annually. The GAO publishes reports and information relating to, inter alia:
Each year the GAO issues an audit report on the financial statements of the United States Government. The 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government was released on December 21, 2010.The accompanying press release states that the GAO 'cannot render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations'.
As part of its initiative to advocate sustainability, the GAO publishes a Federal Fiscal Outlook Report,as well as data relating to the deficit. The U.S. deficit is presented on a cash rather than accruals basis, although the GAO notes that the accrual deficit 'provides more information on the longer-term implications of the government's annual operations'. In FY 2010, the US federal government had a net operating cost of $2,080 billion, although since this includes accounting provisions (estimates of future liabilities), the cash deficit is $1,294 billion.
The most recent GAO strategic plan, for 2018-2023, sets out four goals, namely:
The Forensic Audits and Investigative Service (FAIS) team provides Congress with high-quality forensic audits and investigations of fraud, waste, and abuse; other special investigations; and security and vulnerability assessments. Its work cuts across a diverse array of government programs administered by the IRS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
After the closing of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1995, Congress directed the GAO to conduct a technology assessment (TA) pilot program. Between 2002 and 2005, three reports were completed–-use of biometrics for border security,cyber security for critical infrastructure protection, and technologies for protecting structures in wildland fires. The GAO reports and technology assessments, which are made available to the public, have become essential vehicles for understanding science and technology (S&T) implications of policies considered by the Congress.
Since 2008, Congress has established a permanent TA function within the GAO. This new operational role augments GAO's performance audits related to S&T issues, including effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. federal programs. In 2010, the GAO joined the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) as an associate member. In 2019, the GAO established a new mission team, the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team, which has primary responsibility for technology assessments.
The GAO has published a TA Design Handbook to help technology assessment teams analyze the impact of technology and make complex issues more easily understood and useful to policymakers.The GAO defines TA as the "thorough and balanced analysis of significant primary, secondary, indirect, and delayed interactions of a technological innovation with society, the environment, and the economy and the present and foreseen consequences and impacts of those interactions." Recognizing that the effects of those interactions can have implications, the GAO has in some of its products included policy options. The Technology Assessment section of its website lists GAO's public TA reports.
The Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987 were the first binding spending constraints on the federal budget.
An audit is an "independent examination of financial information of any entity, whether profit oriented or not, irrespective of its size or legal form when such an examination is conducted with a view to express an opinion thereon" It also attempts to ensure that the books of accounts are properly maintained by the concern as required by law. Auditing has become such a ubiquitous phenomenon in the corporate and the public sector that academics have started identifying an "Audit Society". Auditors perceive and recognize the propositions before them examination, obtain evidence, evaluate the same and formulate an opinion on the basis of their judgement which is communicated through their auditing report.
The national debt of the United States is the total debt, or unpaid borrowed funds, carried by the federal government of the United States, which is measured as the face value of the currently outstanding Treasury securities that have been issued by the Treasury and other federal government agencies. The terms "national deficit" and "national surplus" usually refer to the federal government budget balance from year to year, not the cumulative amount of debt. A deficit year increases the debt, while a surplus year decreases the debt as more money is received than spent.
The National Audit Office (NAO) is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies. The NAO also carries out value for money (VFM) audits into the administration of public policy.
A comptroller is a management-level position responsible for supervising the quality of accounting and financial reporting of an organization. A financial comptroller is a senior-level executive who acts as the head of accounting, and oversees the preparation of financial reports, such as balance sheets and income statements.
Government Accountability Office investigations of the Department of Defense (DoD) are typically audits in which the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the United States Congress' investigative arm, studies how the Department of Defense spends taxpayer dollars. Since the GAO is accountable only to the legislative branch, it is in a unique position to investigate the military; no other agency can audit Federal departments with the same degree of independence from the President. However, the GAO is still subject to influence from powerful members of Congress. As of March 2016, the DoD was the only government agency to have failed every audit since all government agencies were required to pass such audits by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.
The military budget is a large portion of the discretionary United States federal budget allocated to the Department of Defense, or more broadly, the portion of the budget that goes to any military-related expenditures. The military budget pays the salaries, training, and health care of uniformed and civilian personnel, maintains arms, equipment and facilities, funds operations, and develops and buys new items. The budget funds five branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Space Force.
David M. Walker served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, and is founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative (CAI) from 2010–2013.
The Comptroller General of the United States is the director of the Government Accountability Office, a legislative branch agency established by Congress in 1921 to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government. The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 "created an establishment of the Government to be known as the General Accounting Office, which shall be independent of the executive departments and under the control and direction of the Comptroller General of the United States". The act also provided that the "Comptroller General shall investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President when requested by him, and to Congress... recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures." The Comptroller General is appointed for fifteen years by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate per 31 U.S.C. § 703. Also per 31 U.S.C. § 703 when the office of Comptroller General is to become vacant the current Comptroller General must appoint an executive or employee of the GAO to serve as the Acting Comptroller General until such time as a new Comptroller General is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense under the direction of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). It was established in 1965 to perform all contract audits for the Department of Defense. Previously, the various branches of military service were responsible for their own contract audits.
Government performance auditing focuses on improving how governments provide programs and services. While there is no one universally agreed upon definition, there are key definitions which capture the scope of government performance auditing. According to Government Auditing Standards, "Performance audits are defined as audits that provide findings or conclusions based on an evaluation of sufficient, appropriate evidence against criteria." Additionally, the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions defines performance auditing as "an independent examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of government undertakings, programs or organizations, with due regard to economy, and the aim of leading to improvements.
The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 was landmark legislation that established the framework for the modern federal budget. The act was approved by President Warren G. Harding to provide a national budget system and an independent audit of government accounts. The official title of this act is "The General Accounting Act of 1921", but is frequently referred to as "the budget act", or "the Budget and Accounting Act". This act meant that for the first time, the president would be required to submit an annual budget for the entire federal government to Congress. The object of the budget bill was to consolidate the spending agencies in both the executive and legislative branches of the government.
The Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), commonly referred to as the "Yellow Book", are produced in the United States by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act created the Troubled Asset Relief Program to administer up to $700 billion. Several oversight mechanisms are established by the bill, including the Congressional Oversight Panel, the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP), the Financial Stability Oversight Board, and additional requirements for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Elmer Boyd Staats was an American public servant whose career from the late 1930s to the early 1980s was primarily associated with the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) and the GAO. Staats was born to Wesley F. and Maude (Goodall) Staats. Staats received his AB from McPherson College in 1935, his MA from the University of Kansas in 1936, and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1939.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is the U.S. government's leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction. Congress created the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to provide independent and objective oversight of the Afghanistan Reconstruction funds. Under the authority of Section 1229 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, SIGAR conducts audit, inspections, and investigations to promote efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction programs, and to detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. SIGAR also has a hotline that allows individuals to report suspected fraud.
The Audit Integrity and Job Protection Act is a bill that was introduced into the United States House of Representatives during the 113th United States Congress. The bill would "amend the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) to deny the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board any authority to require that audits conducted for a particular issuer of securities in accordance with SOX standards be conducted by specific auditors, or that such audits be conducted for an issuer by different auditors on a rotating basis," according to a summary by the Congressional Research Service. The bill passed the House 321-62 on July 8, 2013.
The DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act is a bill that would direct the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve the accountability, transparency, and efficiency of its major acquisition programs. The bill would specify procedures for the department to follow if it fails to meet timelines, cost estimates, or other performance parameters for these programs.
The Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act is a bill that would direct the United States Department of Homeland Security to assess the effectiveness of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. The bill would require an independent assessment of how well the TWIC program improves security and reduces risks at the facilities and vessels it is responsible for. The evaluation would include a cost-benefit analysis and information on alternate technologies that could be used.
The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2013 is a bill that would direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to prepare, within 12 months of enactment, an audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Reserve Banks.
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