Today, U.S. Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Jon Tester (D-MT), members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released the following statements after the “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016” passed through committee.  The legislation must now come before the full Senate.

“One of the ways to make sure that Washington works for taxpayers and not the other way around is to empower watchdogs, like GAO, to keep government accountable," said Sasse. "For the first time, GAO will be able to fully audit some of the government's biggest entitlement programs. I am pleased that the committee passed this bipartisan solution and call on my colleagues to support common sense transparency."

“This good-government legislation gives GAO the necessary tools to ensure transparency and hold the government accountable to the taxpayer,” Tester said.  “I’m glad my colleagues joined Senator Sasse and me to support this accountability measure that makes sure the government is working efficiently and in the best interest of our nation.”

Background: 

The “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016”, introduced by Senators Sasse and Tester, would ensure GAO 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 primarily to assist state-level agencies enforce child support laws. Additionally, access to the database was given to a large number of oversight bodies at both the federal and state levels to improve accountability in the administration of major federal programs like Unemployment 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. This legislation would clarify the intent of Congress to give GAO full access. 

Just this March, GAO was unable to comply with 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 would clarify that GAO’s authority to access federal records includes access to the NDNH.

Second, it would strengthen 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.