Definition

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. 

The GAO works for U.S. Congress and is often called the "congressional watchdog." According to its mission statement, the GAO is designed to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. The head of the GAO is the Comptroller General of the United States, who is appointed to a 15-year term by the President from a list of candidates proposed by Congress.

GAO investigations are initiated at the request of congressional committees and subcommittees or mandated by public laws or committee reports. The variety of topics reported on by the GAO include financial management, education, homeland security, healthcare, information technology, natural resources, the environment, international affairs, financial markets and government management.

GAO responsibilities include:

  • Auditing agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively.
  • Investigating allegations of illegal and improper activities.
  • Reporting on how well government programs and policies are meeting objectives.
  • Performing policy analyses and outline options for congressional consideration.
  • Issuing legal decisions and opinions, such as bid protest rulings and reports on agency rules.

The GAO also produces publications to assist Congress and executive branch agencies. GAO reports, testimonies, correspondence, legal decisions and opinions are available to the press and the public.

 

Contributor(s): Ben Cole
This was last updated in February 2014
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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