GAO seeks money, staff to expand oversight role

The head of Congress' investigative arm pleaded Wednesday for a boost in funding, a bigger staff and the authority to administer an oath in order to conduct better oversight.

Government Accountability Office Comptroller General David Walker, speaking at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, made the case for his agency's fiscal 2008 budget request of $523 million, an 8.5 percent hike from last year, and for an increase in staff over the next six years.

In a nod to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who said in his opening remarks that GAO's oversight saved the government $105 for every dollar spent on the agency, Walker said such a budget increase next year would "clearly be a strategic asset for this Congress."

In addition to increased funding -- a request met by friendly comments from both Lieberman and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine -- Walker said there needs to be greater transparency in government financial and budget reporting so GAO can offer better analyses and recommendations.

The congressional agency, Walker said, "has to move beyond fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, and reform how the government operates."

He cited the recent overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service, which was greatly modernized thanks to legislation steered through by Collins and enacted in December, as a key example of using GAO recommendations to boost efficiency in a government agency. He also pointed to the 26 federal programs labeled as high-risk in the GAO's biennial review of the government as top targets for restructuring this year.

Reciting a list of legislative recommendations, Walker appealed to the committee to consider giving GAO officials the authority to administer oaths for investigative work and reaffirm the agency's audit authority to more quickly access information from the intelligence community.

The comptroller general, whose agency employs nearly 3,200 people and issues 1,000 reports annually, also used the hearing to highlight a handful of priority issues that he said should be addressed this year. Walker said Congress should move to rein in the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, overhaul the alternative minimum tax, and make certain that pay-as-you-go rules become law.

"We're going to get the most money, in my opinion, with entitlement reform," Walker said, "and if we can do that, we can make a significant down payment on our national debt."

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