Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Government Auditor Faces Its Own Audit Congress to Hold Hearings on Alleged Bias and Leaks in the General Accounting Office

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Government Auditor Faces Its Own Audit Congress to Hold Hearings on Alleged Bias and Leaks in the General Accounting Office

Article excerpt

THE General Accounting Office (GAO) is a lightning rod of sorts on Capitol Hill. Supporters consider the investigative agency an unfairly maligned messenger. Critics contend that it's an inefficient and biased bureaucracy that panders to the congressional committee chairmen who control its purse strings.

In October, the House Government Operations Committee will hold the first oversight hearings into the GAO's operations in eight years. It will examine the alleged bias, timeliness, and leaks of GAO reports.

Supporters worry that hearings could have a chilling effect on the agency that has weeded out billions of dollars in executive-branch waste, fraud, and abuse. But for critics, like Rep. Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois, hearings are long overdue.

"The GAO makes a less-than-honest effort to find out all the facts," says Representative Hastert. "They've become lap dogs for what the majority wants."

Hastert and other Republican critics say there's a palpable sense on the Hill that Democrats get better service from the GAO than Republicans in both the quantity and the quality of the agency's work. Many analysts say that's to be expected.

The GAO is mandated by Congress to oversee executive-branch operations. For the last 12 years, a predominantly Democratic Congress has ordered investigations of two Republican administrations.

"We're the auditor of the executive branch, so it's very understandable the Democrats would ask for reports on the Republicans," says GAO spokesman Cleve Corlett. "But I've also got a drawer full of reports that Democrats aren't happy about. We just call them as we see them."

Supporters contend that the GAO is one of the most balanced and cost-effective agencies in the government. In 1991, the GAO weeded out more than $33 billion of fraud and waste, ranging from cost overruns of more than $500 million in the Superconducting Super Collider project to the tens of millions of dollars prominent universities were billing the government for yachts, private homes, and decorating expenses.

Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, points out that that is a return of about $82 dollars for every $1 dollar invested in the GAO.

"{Critics} either do not understand the importance of its function ... or they believe it's in their political party's self-interest to avoid further revelations about the fraud, waste, and abuse that has plagued the past two presidential administrations," Conyers says.

With a budget of $435 million and 4,900 employees, the GAO produces more than 1,500 reports annually. Eighty percent are requested by committee chairman or ranking members; the rest are initiated by the agency, or mandated by statute.

GAO investigations range from the House bank audit that documented overdrafts by dozens of congressmen to the analysis of the Commodities Credit Corporation loan program that identified how Iraq's Saddam Hussein used it to subsidize his military buildup. …

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