New Law Will Allow the Government Accountability Office to Oversee the Biggest Government Spending Programs

President Trump signed the “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017” last night, making it one of the first measures to become law during his administration. The bill, authored by Senator Ben Sasse, would allow government watchdogs to root out fraud and abuse in the federal government’s biggest spending programs.

“This law gives the watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office the tools they need. Hard-hitting and honest oversight of Washington’s bureaucracy is part of Congress’ job in our system of checks and balances. Too often, taxpayers foot the bill and assistance goes to the wrong folks when bureaucracies don’t hold up their end of the bargain. I’m grateful that the President signed this common-sense law and that taxpayers now have new tools to expose Washington’s waste and abuse.”

Background: 

The “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017,” introduced by Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), 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.

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 Sasse 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.

Last April, Senators Sasse and Tester introduced S. 2849, which passed the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously in September. This year, they reintroduced S. 17 for the 115th Congress.

GAO calls this its top legislative priority.

S. 17 has been cosponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT); Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN).