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GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE OVERSIGHT

AND THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION STUDY

THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 1995

U.S. SENATE,
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS,

Washington, DC. The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10 a.m., in room SD342, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. William V. Roth, Jr., Chairman of the Committee, presiding.

Present: Senators Roth, Cohen, Grassley, Glenn, Nunn, Levin, Pryor, and Lieberman.

OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN ROTH Chairman ROTH. The Committee will please be in order.

This morning we will be considering "The Roles, Mission and Operation of the U.S. General Accounting Office.” That is not only the purpose of the hearing, but the title of a report that was prepared for the Committee last year by the National Academy of Public Administration. Because the report was not available until the end of the session, there was no opportunity to receive testimony from NAPA or GAO on the findings or recommendations of the report. In the interim, GAO has made some progress on some of the recommendations, and we will look forward to hearing about the progress made on that front later this morning from the Comptroller General.

As stated in the Executive Summary of the report, “GAO has been a valuable part of the Federal Government for more than 70 years, providing auditing, research and evaluation to government generally and to Congress in particular, which could not be easily and readily replaced.

By the very nature of this Committee's jurisdiction and responsibilities for general oversight of all functions of government, the Governmental Affairs Committee depends heavily on the work of GAO. We call on GAO to perform a variety of audits and evaluations in every facet of government. In that sense, it can be said that the success of this Committee is directly tied to the success of GAO. I want to congratulate Comptroller General Bowsher and the thousands of GAO employees, dedicated men and women, who have been instrumental in performing this critical role. While there may be criticism on particular issues, reports, or actions, I think it needs to be made clear that GAO is a vital link in providing in

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formation, support, and guidance that is necessary for Congress to meet both its oversight and legislative responsibilities.

The GAO has evolved over the decades and responded with internal changes to meet the needs and demands required at different times in our history. I believe we are now at a crossroad which requires a serious review of GAO's role and mission as we prepare the Federal Government to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

GAO's statutory authorization gives a broad mandate to make recommendations on the economy and efficiency of public expenditures, to prescribe systems and procedures for appropriation and accounting, and to undertake investigations and reports ordered by any congressional committee. We need to consider the broad mandate in the context of where it has taken the agency to date. The NAPA report suggests that the GAO mission and use by Congress has been broadened and expanded in recent years, placing new demands on the agency's core purpose, skills, and resources. NAPA further suggests, and I tend to agree, that it is incumbent on the Congress to more clearly define the mission as we see it.

I also believe that it is fundamental to GAO's credibility that they live by the standards that they prescribe to others. GAO should be asking the same questions of itself that it poses to others. How can GAO be made more efficient? How can they emulate the private sector to do more with less? Why are only 21 percent of GAO reports on time, with 29 percent of the reports over 6 months late? How does GAO compare to its management layers and ratio of supervisors to employees? Is GAO operating efficiently when 30 percent of its budget goes to general administrative and overhead costs. How does GAO justify spending more than a quarter of its staff time on tasks other than core work products, as indicated on the Workforce Utilization Chart A?1

How can GAO justify reductions to its core workforce of GS-7 through GS-12 by 34 percent while inflating the senior management ranks by 11 percent, as, again, represented on Chart B?2

Why should the Committee accept the notion that GAO will be able to use personnel cuts to achieve a dollar savings when over the past 2 years a total staff cut of 12 percent has resulted in only 1 percent savings to the taxpayer?

These are all issues that must be examined closely by this Committee and by the GAO.

In performing its mission and paramount to the effectiveness of the GAO is the absolute requirement that GAO have the trust and confidence of all Members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation or individual policy positions. NAPA has raised concerns that GAO has become increasingly involved in policy analysis and policy development. It is recommended that GÀO revise its vision and mission statements to reflect more focused and realistic objectives.

The panel further recommends a shift in GAO perspectives and methods, from promoting process-oriented controls to examine the root causes of problems in order to help improve the effectiveness of program outcomes. I believe this goes to the heart of the Com

Chart A appears in the Appendix on page 84. 2Chart B appears in the Appendix on page 85.

mittee's initiatives to put in place performance measures and results-oriented planning.

I also support the panel recommendation that congressional requesters have a responsibility not to put GAO's role and reputation as impartial objective auditor and evaluator in jeopardy by requesting work that inevitably places GAO in the middle of controversial issues.

I believe there is a valid question to be raised about the role of the Congress. We need to do a little self-examination ourselves and determine to what extent we are a part of the problem and how that can be changed.

Another point raised by the panel is in the area of work processes, pointing out that they tend to proceed in uniform hierarchical patterns with inadequate definition at the outset of the objectives, methods, and types of work and cumbersome review process at the end. By taking a look at Chart C, you will get an idea of the draft review process from beginning to end.

The recommendations that GAO congressional oversight committees need to do more regular, continuing oversight of GAO is an important one. We need to closely monitor the actions of the Committee in responding to the observations and recommendations that are brought forth today. We need to look at the utilization of resources, the quality of work products, the value of those work products to the core mission of the agency, the organizational structure, the management layers, the makeup of the workforce, and the work processes.

Because of GAO's unique role as an auditor and investigator, it is important that the organization have credibility with those entities being reviewed. In this sense, it is incumbent upon GAO to operate in the most effective, efficient manner possible. There may be a natural assumption that GAO conducts its own internal reviews to assure that it is living by the recommendations it makes to others.

As we in the Congress raise the tough questions to Executive Branch agencies, we need to raise the same tough questions of our Legislative Branch organization. We are all aware that the current environment is calling for tight budgetary constraints and some sacrifices from all government organizations. Faced with the need to find dollar savings, as the largest congressional entity, GAO is an obvious target.

There has been a call for a 25-percent reduction from the current funding level, and the Comptroller General has expressed his serious concerns about the impact of such a dramatic cut.

While the Appropriation Committee will make the final determination on funding levels, as the GAO oversight committee we have the responsibility for conducting an in-depth review of GAO's operation to determine if, in fact, all the services and the cost of those services is justified.

This exercise should be viewed as a constructive, not destructive one. Criticisms of the work process are not criticisms of the individuals performing the work or the Comptroller General. And as a

1Chart C appears in the Appendix on page 86.

part of our review, we should take into consideration the future role of GAO.

I see the organization as a critical element in our efforts to reinvent government. The driving force for the needed management changes will depend heavily on the guidance from the GAO and the Governmental Affairs Committee. In light of this, I am pleased that the current strategic plan for GAO lists as one of its top five areas for concentration promoting a smaller, more efficient and cost-effective government.

In looking to the strategic plan for GAO in the work priorities, I have to say I am quite concerned about a provision inserted in the Senate regulatory moratorium bill adopted yesterday. That provision assigns responsibility to GAO for reviewing every significant regulation promulgated by an agency, informing Congress whether the agency performed its job. This task is currently carried out by OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and in some cases duplicates the missions of independent peer review provisions and legislation ordered reported by this Committee last week.

Senators McCain and Levin added an important provision to the paperwork legislation currently in conference that would reduce unnecessary reports to Congress, and in my opinion, the reporting called for in the provision would be a prime candidate for classification as duplicative and not necessary, something to be eliminated.

It is troublesome to create a new mission for the agency at the very time we are trying to preserve the core mission on a smaller budget.

Let me reiterate that, as Chairman of this Committee, my ultimate goal is to define the vital role that GAO will be called to perform as we prepare for this future, and I look forward to maintaining a close, cooperative working relationship with the Comptroller General and his management team. But that does not mean there aren't some tough questions to be raised, and I challenge the GAO to find answers to those questions and make the adjustments necessary to give it the credibility, to hold itself out as a standard by which any government organization should measure itself.

Senator Glenn.

OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR GLENN Senator GLENN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I do think it is good we are having a look at GAO. This whole process started back in the spring of 1993. This isn't something that just happened in the last few months. We had talked to GAO about when was the last time anybody had come in and really looked at GAO, to assess and, in effect, audit the auditors. It hadn't been done for a while. While Comptroller General Bowsher had had some internal groups looking at its processes, we felt it was good to have an outside group come in and really look at the way things were going

There was an original proposal for $2 million for this project. We talked to the National Academy of Public Administration, and they agreed to do it for considerably less than that, for which we thank them. This is their business, looking at government, and we appreciate the work that they have done.

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