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Wednesday, December 14, 2005


What is GAO and Who is David Walker?

I listened to a past program or rerun on C-Span, which actually took place on March 20, 2005. It involved the interview of David Walker who is Comptroller General of the United States. Prior to this I never gave much attention to the U.S. comptroller or of the GAO or Government Accountability Office. Little did I know, that they serve the longest term of any U.S. position, which is 15yrs.

When Walker was asked by his host Brian Lamb, “Why do we need the GAO?”
Walker responded, “We need the GAO in order to try to help the Congress discharge its constitutional responsibilities to assure the performance and help – pardon me (ph) – improve performance and assure accountability of government for the benefit of the American people, to help it discharge its oversight responsibilities, its authorization responsibilities and its appropriations responsibilities. So, we are the watchdog for the Congress. And I think our primary client is the Congress, but our beneficial client is the American people.”

The GAO seems to be a fairly good agency, which is often called the "congressional watchdog" because it investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. It gathers information to determine how well executive branch agencies are doing their jobs. Its investigations answer such basic questions as whether government programs are meeting their objectives or providing good service to the public. Ultimately, GAO ensures that government is accountable to the American people.

GAO supports congressional oversight by:
· evaluating how well government policies and programs are working;
· auditing agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently, effectively, and appropriately;
· investigating allegations of illegal and improper activities; and
· issuing legal decisions and opinions

As I mentioned, the GAO seems like a very good agency, which offers some very useful information to Congress, but what good is it if all they do is provide it and it is never utilized. Congress doesn’t seem to be taking the GAO’s advice, if you take a look at the Social Security and Medicare program (to name a few). It does give Congress some accountability but it also puts a lot of pressure on Congress because the information is available to the media and special interest groups. The media and special interest groups can utilize this information to inform the American people on how well the elected officials in Congress are listening to the GAO’s advice. I think it is good that we have “congressional watchdogs” but what good is a dog that just watches and is not allowed to "bite", to ensure reform of some current programs. It is probably the people who need to do the biting by electing officials who stand behind their promises.

Links: <http://www.gao.gov/> and <http://www.qanda.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1014>

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