Conversations: Gene Dodaro, U.S. comptroller general

Gene L. Dodaro is a career employee of the Government Accountability Office.
Gene L. Dodaro is a career employee of the Government Accountability Office.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 29, 2010; 7:45 PM

Gene L. Dodaro was confirmed by the Senate last week as the government's eighth comptroller general, a job he has held in an acting capacity since 2008. The comptroller general runs the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, which has served since 1921 as Congress's watchdog. Dodaro is the first career civil servant to be appointed to the post, having risen through the ranks from an entry-level auditing job he started at the agency in 1973.

The GAO's staff of 3,200 produces more than 1,000 audits and reports each year on the management of the government. Its budget during the last fiscal year was $557 million.

Dodaro, 59, lives in Alexandria. He holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., which he attended on a basketball scholarship. A Pittsburgh native, he's an avid Steelers fan. After the GAO, he says his passion is his family - his wife, Joan, three adult children and a 2-year-old grandson.

The Post chatted with him Wednesday.

Q.How will your background as a career civil servant help you navigate the agency's relationship with Congress?

A. Previous people who held this job came from the executive branch and the private sector. Certainly I have a lot of insights into the aspirations of the staff, and knowledge of our work processes. Many people I've hired and promoted work here. Over the years, I've worked with a number of people in the executive branch, and with members of Congress from both parties. That's the advantage of being a career person.

Q. What should the public know about the GAO they might not know already?

A. They need to know that we operate in the best interest of the American public. The taxpayer is at the heart of all we do. We're trying to make the government more efficient and effective, and help Congress make informed policy choices across a wide range of issues. We're not only an organization of professionals, we're independent, nonpartisan and fact-based.

Q. With such a vast array of federal agencies, how do you decide where to devote your resources?

A. We work for every standing committee of Congress, preparing strategic plans for serving Congress and looking out five years at areas they want us to focus on. We listen to their priorities. Most of our work is either statutory - for example, the law reforming Wall Street has 43 requirements for studies by the GAO. We're required to audit financial statements, the [Troubled Assets Relief Program] law, the stimulus. We have hundreds of requests from chairmen and ranking members. We also have a hotline where anyone can call in, plus areas where we address broad-based interests of Congress over time, such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the early stages of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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