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GAO and Intelligence Oversight

The Government Accountability Office is among the most potent and productive tools of government oversight available. Perhaps for that reason, U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to cooperate with GAO investigations.

Sen. Daniel Akaka introduced legislation last year to reaffirm GAO authority to investigate intelligence agency activities, and that legislation was the subject of a Senate hearing in February. All of the witnesses, including myself (pdf) and then-GAO Comptroller General David M. Walker (pdf), urged an increased role for GAO in intelligence oversight.

See the record of the February 29, 2008 hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on “Government-Wide Intelligence Community Management Reforms.”

As of March 2008, there were 1,000 GAO employees with Top Secret security clearances out of 3,153 total staff. Of those, 73 held SCI (“sensitive compartmented information”) clearances for access to intelligence information, according to a GAO letter supplied for the hearing record (pdf).

A bill adopted last week in the House, called the “Government Accountability Office Improvement Act” (HR 6388) did not explicitly address intelligence oversight by GAO.

0 thoughts on “GAO and Intelligence Oversight

  1. The GAO is not a substitute for the DoD IG. Considering that the GAO demonstrated itself unfit and/or unable to sufficiently control or perform it’s PRIMARY mission (fiscal policy… a la the pre-2000 “General Accounting Office”) well enough to avert the collapse of gigantic financial markets, nor fit to reform audit practices to protect average American homeowners or investors, nor able to produce a revised version of international audit guidelines (which OIG’s abroad have discovered only after repeated failed attempts at application)… and considering the nebulous status of the GAO given the premature exit of Comptroller General D. Walker four years early, as well as the current lack of a confirmed permanent replacement… there would seem numerous reasons for the DoD or U.S. intelligence community to defer to other than the GAO during this transition period.

    Finally. As the Comptroller General resigned on Feb 15, 2008, and as his deputy acting as his replacement is unconfirmed, it is uncertain how much of the 2000 reorganization undertaken by Mr. Walker will be retained. This suggests that referring to this, that, or another aspect of the GAO prior to the appointment and confirmation of the next Comptroller General is academic and will wholly depend on the new CG.

  2. Who said the GAO should substitute for the DoD IG? Who said GAO’s primary mission is to control fiscal policy? That’s right, no one.

    The GAO is an auditing and investigative organization under congressional direction. Day to day it does a pretty good job, even without a confirmed Comptroller General in place.

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