Senate and House Pass GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017 

Today the Senate passed the “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017,” which will strengthen Congress’ ability to oversee major federal programs. The Sasse-Tester legislation, described by GAO as its top legislative priority, now heads to the President for his signature. U.S. Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Jon Tester (D-MT) issued the following statements.

“This is a hard-fought victory for taxpayers,” said Sasse. “It’s also a rare, bipartisan victory for common-sense. GAO’s mission is built on the simple fact that Washington is supposed to work for the American people – now, for the first time, these watchdogs will have access to a critical database to make sure that happens. This legislation is headed to the President’s desk and GAO is headed to work.”

“This bipartisan bill sheds more light on federal spending and holds government more accountable,” Tester said. “Giving GAO the authority to access the National Directory of New Hires will ensure that the taxpayers’ watchdog can root out overpayments and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse.”  



Background: 

The “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016,” introduced by Senators Ben Sasse and Jon Tester, 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-Tester 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. 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).