The General Accounting Office, the congressional watchdog agency, has been accused by a Senate committee of wasting almost $13 million on a virtually worthless computer system.

Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said the computer project -- called CAMIS -- failed because of "longstanding deficiencies" in procurement activities that have been identified by GAO auditors but never corrected.

The committee report said, "It is particularly disturbing that any serious problems in the GAO's general procurement practices would be allowed to remain uncorrected since the GAO is in the business of auditing and evaluating the procurement activities of government departments and agencies around the world and providing expert advice to the Congress on procurement policies."

GAO comptroller Charles A. Bowsher, who did not hold the post when CAMIS was initiated, agreed that the "GAO could and should have done a better job during early stages of the CAMIS project."

"But I am concerned that your report does not more fully recognize the extent to which the early deficiencies were recognized and remedied," Bowsher wrote Roth. "We do not believe the project failed because of the problems identified in your report. Instead, we believe it failed because Boeing Computer Services the computer contractor did not properly manage technical issues critical to the success of the program."

CAMIS, designed to link GAO headquarters and other offices, was intended to replace 18 different systems, some computerized, at a cost of $15 million.

As of September, the report said, the GAO had spent $12.8 million, including a $10.6 million contract with BCS that will not be renewed after this year.

The report said the benefits of the money, personnel and time spent on CAMIS were "limited" and added, "it is not clear that any future contractor would view the work already completed as adequate or usable."

The report said the "basic, fundamental, underlying causes" of the failure "can be attributed to recognized and longstanding deficiencies in the GAO's procurement activities."