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About the Government Accountability Office

The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress


Known as the General Accounting Office from 1921 until July 7, 2004, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) remains the independent, non-partisan investigative arm of the Congress, dedicated to monitoring and reporting on virtually every aspect of how the federal government spends your tax dollars anywhere in the world.

Originally created by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 to audit the finances of government agencies, Congress has expanded GAO's authority over the years, adding new responsibilities and duties, and strengthening GAO's ability to perform independently. The sweeping changes in the GAO over the years brought about its name change and reorganization as part of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004.

Activities of the GAO

Audits and Evaluations:
Supporting the Congress is GAO's fundamental responsibility. In meeting this objective, GAO performs a variety of services, the most prominent of which are audits and evaluations of government programs and activities. The majority of these reviews are made in response to specific congressional requests.

The GAO is required to perform work requested by committee chairpersons and, as a matter of policy, assigns equal status to requests from ranking minority members. The GAO also responds to individual member requests, as possible. Other assignments are initiated pursuant to standing commitments to congressional committees, and some reviews are specifically required by law. Finally, some assignments are independently undertaken in accordance with GAO's basic legislative responsibilities.

The ability to review practically any government function requires a multidisciplined staff able to conduct assignments wherever needed. The GAO’s staff has expertise in a variety of disciplines, including accounting, law, public and business administration, economics, and the social and physical sciences. The GAO is organized so that staff members concentrate on specific subject areas, enabling them to develop a detailed level of knowledge. When an assignment requires specialized experience not available within GAO, outside experts assist the permanent staff.

Staff members go wherever necessary on assignments, working onsite to gather data and observe firsthand how Government programs and activities are carried out. The Legal Services Division of the GAO provides various legal services to the Congress.

In response to inquiries from congressional committees and members, the Comptroller General provides advice on legal issues involving government programs and activities. The GAO is also available to assist in drafting legislation and reviewing legislative proposals before the Congress. In addition, it reviews and reports to the Congress on proposed rescissions and deferrals of government funds. Other legal services include resolving bid protests that challenge government contract awards and assisting government agencies in interpreting the laws governing the expenditure of public funds.

GAO's staff of professional investigators conducts special investigations and assists auditors and evaluators when they encounter possible criminal and civil misconduct. When warranted, GAO refers the results of its investigations to the Department of Justice and other law enforcement authorities.

Auditing and Accounting:
Policy GAO issues government auditing standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions. These standards pertain to auditors' professional qualifications, the quality of audit effort, and the characteristics of professional and meaningful audit reports. The Comptroller General, along with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, serves as a principal on the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board. The Board considers and recommends issuance of accounting standards and principles and provides interpretations of existing ones.

GAO offers a range of products to communicate the results of its work. The type of product depends on the assignment's objectives and the needs of the intended user. Product types include testimony, oral briefings, and written reports. GAO publishes its reports, testimonies, and Comptroller General decisions on the Internet at www.gao.gov shortly after they are released.

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