Coburn report pans GAO budget cuts

November 17, 2011

Further budget reductions at the Government Accountability Office could force cutbacks in the hundreds of investigations and audits published annually by the investigative agency, a Republican senator warns in a new report.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a longtime GAO champion and critic of federal spending, published a 29-page report this week in hopes of convincing congressional appropriators to spare the watchdog agency from as much as $42 million in cuts this year.

If the cuts occur, GAO bosses say reductions will force furloughs, layoffs and delays in updating office computers. And Coburn fears that the cuts would come at a time when Congress needs the GAO more than ever.

“Quite frankly, the reason the guidance of GAO is so important at this time is because Congress has increasingly ignored its own duties to oversee the functions of government,” his report said. “Even with a shrinking budget, GAO has continued to produce nearly 1,000 reports a year recommending billions of dollars in savings.”

In his report, Coburn argued that while the federal budget increased 100 percent between 1992 and 2007, GAO’s budget was slashed by more than 20 percent in the same time period.

“For every $1 spent on GAO, the agency provides $90 in savings recommendations,” Coburn said. “No other government agency can make such a claim. And in this era of trillion-dollar deficits, Congress desperately needs this rate of return to get us out of the fiscal mess that we have created and so far have demonstrated little ability or willingness to solve.”

“There is no question every government program and agency, including GAO, must be thoroughly examined for savings to address our unprecedented fiscal challenges,” he added, noting later that “If the mission of GAO is compromised by excessive cuts, where else can Congress turn to find unbiased data to improve programs and save money?”

Since 2001, the GAO has received 10,477 requests from Congress and another 1,198 “mandates,” or instructions enshrined in law. That’s more than 1,000 reports or “mandates” addressed each year in the last decade, according to Coburn’s report.

House appropriators who oversee the congressional budget want to cut the GAO’s $546.3 million budget by nearly 6.4 percent this fiscal year, while Senate appropriators would cut its funding by about 7.5 percent. GAO this year is asking for about $556 million.

In response to the report, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is responsible for setting the congressional and GAO budget, said this week that home state concerns will trump Washington budget requests.

“Cuts won’t be easy, and agency by agency there will be resistance,” Nelson said in a statement. “I intend to put the interests of Nebraska taxpayers ahead of Washington bureaucrats and make cuts where we can.”

Nelson’s office wouldn’t confirm reports that he may be willing to give the GAO more money than originally proposed.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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