U.S. Senator Ben Sasse issued the following statement after the House of Representatives passed companion legislation to his GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016 by an overwhelming and bipartisan vote of 404-0. In May, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill to the full Senate.

“Like we’ve said from the beginning, this is common-sense stuff that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on: let the watchdogs do their job. I’m grateful for members of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee and House leadership for moving this forward. We’re one step closer to making sure that GAO can access this critical data to protect the taxpayers’ bottom line. Everyone knows that there’s fraud in Washington’s bureaucracy—this is an important way to tackle it so that Nebraskans don’t foot the bill.” 

Background: 

Tonight the House of Representatives passed the House companion to Sasse’s S. 2849, the GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016 (H.R. 5690 by Rep. Buddy Carter).

The legislation, first introduced by Senators Sasse and Tester in April, 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. Access to the database was also 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 in order to achieve its mission. 

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 that 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. 

GAO calls S. 2849 its top legislative priority.