Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit
The general definition of an audit is an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project or product. The term most commonly refers to audits in accounting, but similar concepts also exist in project management, quality management, and energy conservation.- Accounting...

, evaluation
Evaluation is systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone using criteria against a set of standards.Evaluation often is used to characterize and appraise subjects of interest in a wide range of human enterprises, including the arts, criminal justice,...

, and investigative arm of the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

. It is located in the legislative branch of the United States government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...



The GAO was established as the General Accounting Office by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. This Act required the head of GAO to "investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President ... and to Congress ... reports [and] recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures". According to GAO's current mission statement, the agency exists to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 responsibilities and to help improve the performance
A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which a performer or group of performers behave in a particular way for another group of people, the audience. Choral music and ballet are examples. Usually the performers participate in rehearsals beforehand. Afterwards audience...

 and ensure the accountability
Accountability is a concept in ethics and governance with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility, answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving...

 of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.

The name was changed in 2004 by the GAO Human Capital Reform Act
GAO Human Capital Reform Act
The GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004 is a United States federal law designed to provide new human capital flexibilities with respect to the Government Accountability Office, and for other purposes...

 to better reflect the mission of the office. While most other countries have government entities similar to the GAO, their focus is primarily on conducting financial audits. The GAO's auditors conduct not only financial audits, but also engage in a wide assortment of performance audits.

Over the years, GAO has been referred to as "The Congressional Watchdog" and "The Taxpayers' Best Friend" for its frequent audits and investigative reports that have uncovered waste and inefficiency in government. The news, media, television, electronically based news sources, and print, often draw attention to GAO's work by doing stories on the findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations in GAO reports. In addition, Members of Congress frequently cite GAO's work in statements to the press, congressional hearings, and floor debates on proposed legislation. In 2007 the Partnership for Public Service ranked GAO second on its list of the best places to work in the federal government and Washingtonian
Washingtonian (magazine)
Washingtonian is a monthly magazine distributed in the Washington, DC area since 1965. The magazine describes itself as "the magazine Washington lives by." The magazine's core focuses are local feature journalism, guide book-style articles, and real estate advice.-Editorial Content:Washingtonian...

 magazine included GAO on its 2007 list of great places to work in Washington, a list that encompasses the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States
Comptroller General of the United States
The Comptroller General of the United States is the director of the Government Accountability Office , a legislative branch agency established by Congress in 1921 to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government...

, a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 15-year, non-renewable term. The President selects a nominee from a list of at least three individuals recommended by an eight member bipartisan, bicameral commission of congressional leaders. The Comptroller General may not be removed by the President, but only by Congress through impeachment or joint resolution for specific reasons. Since 1921, there have been only seven Comptrollers General, and no formal attempt has ever been made to remove a Comptroller General. According to the GAO website, "the long tenure of the Comptroller General gives GAO a continuity of leadership that is rare within government."

Labor-management relations became fractious during the 9-year tenure of the 7th Comptroller General, David M. Walker
David M. Walker (U.S. Comptroller General)
David M. Walker served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, and is now the Founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative.- Career as Comptroller General :...

. On September 19, 2007, GAO analysts voted by a margin of two to one (897–445), in a 75% turnout, to establish the first union in GAO's 86-year history. The analysts voted to affiliate with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers , AFL-CIO & CLC, is a diverse labor union representing more than 80,000 women and men in professional, technical, administrative and associated occupations in the United States and Canada. Their members are employed by federal,...

 (IFPTE), a member union of the AFL-CIO
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL–CIO, is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of 56 national and international unions, together representing more than 11 million workers...

. There are more than 1,800 analysts in the GAO analysts bargaining unit; the local voted to name itself IFPTE Local 1921, in honor of the date of GAO's establishment. On February 14, 2008, the GAO analysts' union approved its first-ever negotiated pay contract with management; of just over 1,200 votes, 98 percent were in favor of the contract.

The Director of National Intelligence is preparing a directive to govern the GAO's access to intelligence information.
The Government Accountability Office also establishes standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions, and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernmental organizations. These standards, often referred to as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards
Government Auditing Standards (Yellow Book)
The Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards , commonly referred to as the "Yellow Book", are produced in the United States by the Government Accountability Office ....

 (GAGAS), are to be followed by auditors and audit organizations when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. These standards pertain to auditors' professional qualifications, the quality of audit effort, and the characteristics of professional and meaningful audit reports.

In 1992 the GAO hosted XIV INCOSAI, the fourteenth triennial convention of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions
International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions
The International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions is a worldwide affiliation of governmental entities. Its members are the Chief Financial Controller/Comptroller General Offices of nations.INTOSAI was founded in 1953 in Havana, Cuba...



GAO is a United States government electronic data provider, as all of its reports are available on its website (, except for certain reports whose distribution is limited to official use in order to protect national and homeland security. The variety of topics reported on range from Federal Budget and Fiscal Issues to Financial Management, Education, Retirement Issues, Defense, Homeland Security, Administration of Justice, Health Care, Information Management and Technology, Natural Resources, Environment, International Affairs, Trade, Financial Markets, Housing, Government Management and Human Capital.

Most GAO studies and reports are initiated by requests from members of Congress, including requests mandated in statute, and so reflect concerns of current political import, but many reports are issued periodically and take a long view of U.S. agencies' operations. Examples of these are the annual Performance and Accountability Series and High Risk Update.

The GAO prepares some 900 reports annually. GAO publishes reports and information relating to, inter alia:

Financial Statements of the US Government

Each year the GAO issues an audit report on the financial statements of the United States Government. The 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government was released on 21 December 2010. The accompanying press release states that the GAO 'cannot render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government
2010 United States federal budget
The United States Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2010, titled A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise, is a spending request by President Barack Obama to fund government operations for October 2009–September 2010...

, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations'.

US Public Debt

As part of its initiative to advocate sustainability
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of union, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non...

, the GAO publishes a Federal Fiscal Outlook Report, as well as data relating to the deficit. The US deficit is presented on a cash
Comparison of Cash Method and Accrual Method of accounting
The two primary accounting methods of the cash and the accruals basis are used to calculate US public debt, as well as taxable income for U.S. federal income taxes and other income taxes...

 rather than accruals basis, although the GAO notes that the accrual deficit 'provides more information on the longer-term implications of the government's annual operations'.
In FY 2010, the US federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

 had a net operating cost of $2,080 billion, although since this includes accounting provisions
Provision (accounting)
In financial accounting, provision is a word that creates an ambiguous account title. In U.S. GAAP, provision means an expense, while in IFRS, International Financial Reporting Standards, it means a liability. So, in the U.S., Provision for Income Taxes means the same thing as Income Tax Expense,...

 (estimates of future liabilities), the cash deficit is $1,294 billion.

Quinquennial Strategic Plan

The most recent GAO plan, for 2010-2015, sets out four goals, namely to address: (1) Current and Emerging Challenges to the Well-being and Financial Security of the American People; (2) Changing Security Threats and the Challenges of Global Interdependence; (3) Transformation of the Federal Government to Address National Challenges; (4) Maximization of the Value of the GAO.

See also

  • Comptroller and Auditor General
    Comptroller and Auditor General
    Comptroller and auditor-general is the abbreviated title of a government official in a number of jurisdictions, including the UK, the Republic of Ireland, India, and China....

  • Comptroller
    A comptroller is a management level position responsible for supervising the quality of accounting and financial reporting of an organization.In British government, the Comptroller General or Comptroller and Auditor General is in most countries the external auditor of the budget execution of the...

  • Inspector General
    Inspector General
    An Inspector General is an investigative official in a civil or military organization. The plural of the term is Inspectors General.-Bangladesh:...

  • Auditor general
    Comptroller General of the United States
    The Comptroller General of the United States is the director of the Government Accountability Office , a legislative branch agency established by Congress in 1921 to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government...

  • Director of audit
    Director of Audit
    Director of Audit may refer to:*Chief audit executive - a corporate executive position*Director of Audit - head of the Audit Commission of Hong Kong...

  • Treasurer
    A treasurer is the person responsible for running the treasury of an organization. The adjective for a treasurer is normally "tresorial". The adjective "treasurial" normally means pertaining to a treasury, rather than the treasurer.-Government:...

  • Corporate title
    Corporate title
    Publicly and privately held for-profit corporations confer corporate titles or business titles on company officials as a means of identifying their function in the organization...

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs):
  • Government Accountability Project
    Government Accountability Project
    The Government Accountability Project is a leading United States whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating of whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability...

  • Project On Government Oversight
    Project on Government Oversight
    The Project On Government Oversight , founded in 1981, is an independent non-profit organization in the United States which investigates and seeks to expose corruption and other misconduct. POGO assists whistleblowers and investigates federal agencies, Congress, and government contractors...

  • Auditor independence
    Auditor independence
    Auditor independence refers to the independence of the internal auditor or of the external auditor from parties that may have a financial interest in the business being audited.Independence requires integrity and an objective approach to the audit process...

  • Negative assurance
    Negative assurance
    Negative assurance is a method used by the Certified Public Accountant to assure various parties, such as bankers and stockbrokers, that financial data under review by them is correct. Negative assurance tells the data user that nothing has come to the CPA's attention of an adverse nature or...

  • Positive assurance
    Positive assurance
    Positive assurance is a statement as to what the CPA believes. An example is an opinion that the financial statements are presented fairly in conformity with U.S. GAAP.The opposite is negative assurance, a statement about what the CPA does not know...

  • Brazil
    Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

    : Brazilian Inspectorate-General
    Brazilian Inspectorate-General
    The Brazilian Inspectorate-General is the federal government's office in charge of assisting the president on issues regarding treasury and public assets defense, as well as federal government's transparency policies...

  • Botswana
    Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana , is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens are referred to as "Batswana" . Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966...

    : Office of the Auditor General Botswana
  • Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

    : Auditor General of Canada
    Auditor General of Canada
    The role of the Auditor General of Canada is to aid accountability by conducting independent audits of federal government operations. The Auditor General reports to the House of Commons, not to the government...

  • Europe
    Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

    : Court of Auditors
  • Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
    Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

    : Director of Audit of Hong Kong
    Director of Audit (Hong Kong)
    The role of the Director of Audit is to ensure the financial order of the Hong Kong Government and heads the Audit Commission. This role is similar to that of Auditors General or auditors in other jurisdictions...

  • India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    : Comptroller and Auditor General of India
    Comptroller and Auditor General of India
    The Comptroller and Auditor General of India is an authority, established by the Constitution of India, who audits all receipts and expenditure of the Government of India and the state governments, including those of bodies and authorities substantially financed by the government. The CAG is...

  • United Kingdom
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

    : National Audit Office
    National Audit Office (United Kingdom)
    The National Audit Office is an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies...

External links

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