The Government Accountability Agency (GAO) was established in 1921 to investigate the government in matters relating to public money. The GAO’s primary purpose is to check if government revenue generated by taxes is being efficiently spent. The GAO is a part of the legislative branch and acts as a “watchdog” on the Executive branch of government.
The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (Pub.L. 67-13, 42 Stat. 20, June 10, 1921) established the GAO. The Act required the head of GAO to “investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President…and to Congress…reports (and) recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures.”
Initially called the General Accounting Office, its name was changed in 2004 to reflect its services. The GAO’s main mission is to aid Congress in its constitutional obligations, and to ensure that the federal government is accountable to the citizens. It provides Congress with objective and unbiased information for Congress to act upon. Its recommendations can also be the basis for new legislations. The GAO acts at the behest of congressional committees or subcommittees as well as whenever statutes mandate. It also does research work for the office of the Comptroller General and investigates complaints on illegal and corrupt practices. In short, it is the GAO that ensures the efficient and effective running of the federal government.
The GAO’s website is technically advanced and all its reports are available online. As such, the GAO is also called the US Government’s electronic data provider. The website does not contain reports that are confidential due to security reasons.
The Comptroller General of the US is the head of the GAO. He is appointed by the President upon the Senate’s advice for a 15 year term. The term is non-renewable. The fact that the head of the GAO has a long term helps in maintaining the continuity of its services as well as its independence. The functioning of the GAO is also scrutinized every three years by independent organizations.