Comptroller General

What Is the Comptroller General?

The Comptroller General of the United States is a high-ranking accounting position that sets and oversees accounting policy. The Comptroller General is appointed for a term of 15 years by the President of the United States. The U.S. Comptroller General serves as the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Comptroller General is a high-ranking accounting position that manages accounting policy and is the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
  • The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 established the GAO to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government. Many public organizations across the country also have their own Comptroller General.
  • The title generally encompasses varied responsibilities, including overseeing accounting and countersigning on expenses and commitments.

Understanding the Comptroller General

The GAO was established by Congress in 1921 as a legislative branch agency. Officially, the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 established the GAO in order to ensure the fiscal and managerial accountability of the federal government. The Comptroller General audits the financial statements that are presented to Congress and the President. They also oversee the spending activities of the U.S. government, both domestically and around the world.

The Comptroller General is a critical position in the U.S. government because they are responsible for tracking the effectiveness of spending policies. The Comptroller General then reports the GAO's findings to Congress. In the U.S., the Comptroller General can be thought of as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the public body. The current Comptroller General of the United States is Eugene Louis Dodaro. Dodaro became Comptroller General on December 22, 2010.

The Comptroller General in Nongovernmental Organizations

In addition to the U.S. government, many public organizations across the country have their own comptroller general. The comptroller general of an organization is generally in charge of setting and overseeing the accounting policy of that organization and reporting on the accounting activity of their organization to the necessary regulatory and oversight bodies. They may also oversee the preparation and distribution of financial statements and reporting responsibilities, overseeing internal audits, and overseeing the handling of money received and paid out by the organization.

The business role of a comptroller is distinct from a government role. In business, a comptroller may be a senior-level executive who acts as the head of accounting or holds a senior role in internal audit functions. In business management, the title generally encompasses varied responsibilities, ranging from overseeing accounting and monitoring internal controls to countersigning on expenses and commitments.

Special Considerations

Pronunciation and Etymology

The word's etymology is disputed, and this may be why the word "comptroller" is often pronounced identically to "controller" (despite having a distinct spelling). However, at times, the word "comptroller" may be pronounced phonetically.

There are two theories for the origin of the word: The word is a variant of "controller." The root "cont-" or "count-" is associated with "compt," a variant of the verb "count." Another theory is that the word evolved in the 15th century through a blend of the French word compte, which means "an account" and the Middle English word countreroller, which refers to a person who checks a copy of a scroll.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Government Accountability Office. "GAO’s Mission, Responsibilities, Strategies, and Means." Accessed Feb. 9, 2021.

  2. Merriam-Webster. "Definition of Comptroller." Accessed Feb. 9, 2021.

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