GAO scales back to fewer than 3,000 staffers

The nation’s top watchdog is set to employ fewer than 3,000 staffers for the first time in more than 75 years, its director said Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office said it is requesting a budget increase of about 3 percent in fiscal 2013 to rebuild depleted staffing levels that dropped in the last two fiscal years amid budget cuts.

GAO — the nonpartisan congressional auditing agency — requested $526.2 million for fiscal 2013 with hopes of having 3,100 staffers. Its current budget is $511.3 million, about $45 million, or 8 percent, below fiscal 2010 levels. By the end of the fiscal year in September, the agency will have fewer than 3,000 employees. It has cut its staff by 11 percent, or 365 people, during the past two years.

In congressional testimony Tuesday, Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro warned lawmakers that impending staff cuts will mean “missed opportunities for us to identify ways to save money and generate revenue at a time when the country needs us most.”

Dodaro also said he is concerned with “maintaining our highly skilled workforce by both replacing departing staff and adding more highly skilled talent.”

“The cost to restore our staff capacity would be more than offset by billions of dollars in savings and other efficiencies resulting from GAO’s work,” he said.

Ideally, GAO would grow again to about 3,250 employees in the coming years, Dodaro said.

This year’s budget cuts have already forced GAO to postpone computer purchases and to eliminate some contractor positions. Travel costs and a student loan repayment program have been scaled back to save an additional $6 million.

GAO’s defenders, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), blasted the budget cuts, arguing that the agency’s audits, investigations and testimony are critical as Congress seeks ways to curtail federal spending. In a widely-distributed report, Coburn’s office noted that the federal budget increased 100 percent between 1992 and 2007 while GAO’s budget shrank by more than 20 percent.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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