What is the Government Accountability Office?

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  • Written By: Robert Lee
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a US legislative office that works under the US Congress. Its main functions are to investigate, audit and evaluate any dealings with public funds and the economic efficiency within the US government. The Government Accountability Office basically holds the US government accountable in order to protect the use of taxpayer dollars. It also makes recommendations to government agencies and leaders in Congress on how spending can be altered or improved to be more efficient.

Much of the work done by the Government Accountability Office is requested by members of the US Congress. Congressional leaders may request performance reviews, spending studies or specific area audits. For example, the office commonly reviews the performance of specific government programs to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately.

In addition to audits and spending reviews, the office also has an investigative function. If there are signs of illegal spending or improper use of taxpayer dollars in any area of the government, including programs, offices, services and other agencies, the Government Accountability Office is responsible for the investigation and for submitting the final report and recommendation. Typically, the reports are submitted to Congress and sometimes to the President of the United States. Historically, such investigations have uncovered wasteful or illegal spending and ultimately have saved a great deal of taxpayer money, earning the office its nickname of "Congressional Watchdog."


The Government Accountability Office is run by the Comptroller General of the United States, a position that is appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. Interestingly, the president cannot remove a person from this position after appointment; the comptroller only can be removed from office through a Congressional joint resolution or impeachment. A person appointed to this position serves a 15-year term and cannot be appointed a second time.

The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 established the Government Accountability Office, which initially was called the General Accounting Office; the agency's name was later changed to better reflect its function within the US government. The creation of the office was in response to the chaotic spending that occurred during World War II. Although the spending during the war essentially ended the Great Depression, the nation's debt increased to such an extent that government leaders realized more control and centralized financial information would be necessary for future financial stability. The office's original headquarters are in Washington D.C., but now there are regional offices in many major cities across the country, including Seattle, Boston, Denver and San Francisco.


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Post 1

Why is there such a lack of oversight, say with the VA and SSA disability claims process? I applied for soc sec disability in 1991.

The SSA's medical examiner determined disability, but systemic incompetence and the dishonest ALJ get away with cheating us. Why? The Dept of VA rates me as a 100 percent "Service-Connected" disabled American veteran (service dates: 1987-1989), yet they refuse to assign an Earlier Effective date consistent with my "Service" dates.

I recently discovered that the Chief ALJ at the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (Debra Bice) has the power and authority to re-open and review my case so that I may recoup the past 20 years retro-active benefits that are lawfully and appropriately mine. Will anyone in Congress encourage her to do the right thing? Ken T., Iowa

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