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What is the GAO?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2014
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GAO is an acronym for Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan investigative branch of the US congress. First established in 1921, the GAO is often called a “watch-dog” organization. Among other things, the GAO investigates potential misuses of taxpayer funds, with the goal being to make the government accountable for their actions regarding expenditures of public funds. In addition, the GAO guidelines describe among its goals the support of the constitution by reporting to the President and the US Congress.

The GAO is supposed to be a non-partisan organization, though appointments are made by presidents and reviewed and voted on by Congress. If a Democratic president and a Democratic congress appoint the GAO head, or Comptroller General, then investigation of matters pertaining to Republican allocations of funds might be more of interest to the GAO, while a matter pertaining to the Democrats might be overlooked. However, usually political parties are apt to cry foul if they perceive favoritism toward one party.

Unless illness or death occurs, the Comptroller is given a 15-year term of office. Congress can impeach a GAO Comptroller, but the President has no authority to remove them.

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One way in which the GAO is helpful to consumers is by issuing public reports and guidelines on problematic areas of government spending. When spending seems to exceed reasonable limits, the GAO problem solves to find ways to reduce spending and stretch the US tax dollar. The GAO is particularly good at identifying areas where excessive wastefulness occurs, and has been responsible for some reports about past spending that have incensed Americans, like uncovering monies used for luxury cars or expensive trips.

Congressional members may also formally request an investigation into the spending habits of other branches of the government, of businesses contracted with the US government, or of individuals. This may not always be an altruistic move to save the tax dollar money, but may be politically motivated to “out” the spending habits of a member of an opposing party. However, the GAO tends to be fair in its assessment, so where no wrongdoing on the part of a politician exists, this will be reported as well.

One can obtain GAO reports on spending overtures and recommendations by simply requesting them from the GAO. The GAO website also offers reports which can be read online, though less recent reports may not be available.

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