The Washington Post

90 years of GAO reports

The Government Accountability marking its 90th anniversary this month with a video featuring archival footage of the agency.

Among the highlights is an audio clip of President Harry S. Truman at the dedication of the GAO headquarters in 1951, insisting that the agency “is neither a bugaboo nor a bore. It is a vital part of our government.”

Legislation in 1921 transferred auditing responsibilities previously done by the Department of Treasury to a new agency independent of the executive branch.

The GAO has been tracking taxpayer dollars ever since as the investigative arm of Congress, examining government spending on issues ranging from farm subsidies to space exploration, and from the war on poverty to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“For 90 years, the people of GAO have worked hard to build and maintain our agency’s reputation as an objective, fact-based, nonpartisan watchdog organization,” Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, said in a statement marking the anniversary.

In 2004, then-comptroller David Walker changed the agency’s name from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office “The old name really didn’t reflect what we did,” Walker recalled in an interview included in the video. “When you go out on college campuses you talk about the General Accounting Office, a lot of people would say well I don’t want to be an accountant when in reality only about 15 percent of our employees had a financial background.”

The agency started in 1921 with about 1,700 employees, but the explosion of government spending during World War II led to a concurrent expansion in the size of the GAO to more than 14,000 workers by 1945.

Today, the agency has 3,350 employees and a fiscal year 2010 budget of $571.1 million, according to GAO spokesman Chuck Young. Even with the smaller number of employees, the agency puts out about 1,000 reports and testimonies each year.


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