Today the House of Representatives passed the “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017.” The legislation, originally introduced by Senator Ben Sasse, would strengthen Congress’ ability to oversee major federal programs.

“Because the watchdogs at GAO are supposed to work for Nebraskans by exposing Washington waste and fraud, it only makes sense for them to access a critical database. This has been a long fight and I'm grateful that one of the first acts of the new Congress is moving this common-sense solution one step closer to the President’s desk.”

The “GAO Access and Oversight Act” was originally introduced by Senator Ben Sasse and would ensure the Government Accountability Office’s access to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) database, equipping GAO to audit key federal programs on behalf of taxpayers.

Last year, the bill passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously. The process needed to be restarted in the new 115th Congress which began this week.

The NDNH was created by Congress in 1996 and contains data on unemployment insurance claims, quarterly wage data and information on new hires. Ensuring GAO’s access to this important data will help improve accountability in the administration of major federal programs like unemployment insurance, disability insurance, SNAP, EITC, and student loans.

A disagreement between GAO and HHS over the interpretation of current law, however, has prevented GAO from obtaining access to the information until now. This legislation clarifies the intent of Congress to give GAO full access to the data and for the first time will make it possible for GAO to provide robust oversight of these programs.

Last March, GAO was unable to comply with Senator Sasse’s request to audit school lunch programs to ensure that assistance was targeted to kids who needed it most.

The bill does three things: 

First, it clarifies that GAO will have access to federal records in the NDNH.

Second, it strengthens GAO’s ability to bring a civil action in court by ensuring GAO has standing in the event an agency refused to disclose information GAO requires to fulfill its oversight and investigation duties.

Third, it would require GAO to keep congressional committees of jurisdiction apprised of any recommendations related to agencies they oversee.