Secrecy News

GAO Oversight Office at NSA Lies Dormant

The Government Accountability Office maintains an office at the National Security Agency but it remains unused since no one in Congress has asked GAO to perform any oversight of the Agency, the head of GAO disclosed last week.

Despite multi-billion dollar acquisition failures at NSA and the Agency’s controversial, possibly illegal surveillance practices, Congress has declined to summon all of its oversight resources such as GAO to address such issues.

In testimony (pdf) before a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on February 29, I argued that the GAO has demonstrated the ability to contribute to oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies and that it should be called upon to do so again.

Although U.S. intelligence community leaders say they oppose a GAO role in intelligence oversight, I noted that GAO oversight staff have in the past been permanently stationed at NSA, where they successfully conducted audits and investigations.

Questioned on that point by Senator Daniel Akaka, Comptroller General David M. Walker, the outgoing director of GAO, confirmed that it was true.

“We still actually do have space at the NSA. We just don’t use it and the reason we don’t use it is we’re not getting any requests, you know. So I don’t want to have people sitting out there twiddling their thumbs,” Mr. Walker said.

His prepared statement, entitled “GAO Can Assist the Congress and the Intelligence Community on Management Reform Initiatives” (pdf), and those of the other witnesses at the February 29 hearing may be found here.

The hearing, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN, can be viewed here (requires RealPlayer).

See also “Panel witnesses press for GAO audits of intelligence agencies” by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, February 29.

2 thoughts on “GAO Oversight Office at NSA Lies Dormant

  1. Mr. Walker is “outgoing?” Does this mean that we might be stuck with a GAO director appointed by President* Bush?

  2. The appointment of a Comptroller General (the head of the GAO) is a somewhat complicated process that begins with the establishment of a congressional commission to propose nominees and recommend them to the President.

    According to a CRS report on the subject (pdf), “The commission must recommend at least three individuals but the President may ask for additional names for consideration (or nominate someone else).”

    Mr. Walker departs in the middle of March. There is no sign yet of the congressional commission needed to nominate (or at least propose) his successor. In the past, the Comptroller General position has been vacant for as long as two years. So the next director may or may not be appointed by President Bush.

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