DEFINITION of 'Government Accountability Office - GAO'

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an agency of the U.S. government that monitors and audits government spending and operations. The GAO tracks how the legislative and executive branches of the government use taxpayer dollars, and then reports the findings directly to Congress. The Comptroller General serves as head of the GAO.

BREAKING DOWN 'Government Accountability Office - GAO'

The GAO serves as a financial watchdog over government spending. It monitors the operating results, financial positions and accounting systems used by the various governmental agencies. The GAO also conducts routine audits on all branches of government.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent and non-partisan government agency that reports to the U.S. Congress.

Function and Management

The GAO conducts audits of federal government agencies to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and as intended. The agency reviews government programs and policies to determine if they are achieving their intended goals, and investigates allegations of illegal activity within the government. The GAO also issues legal determinations on proposed rules regarding other government agencies.

The GAO has broad authority to review the Federal Reserve's function and operations, and it conducted reviews of the emergency lending programs that were enacted following the 2008 financial markets collapse. It does not have the authority to review individual meetings and monetary policy decisions made by the Fed.

The Comptroller General is appointed by the President from a bipartisan list of Congressional recommendations. Gene L. Dodaro was appointed to the position in 2010; his 15-year term will expire in 2025.

Background

The GAO was established in 1921, taking over budget, accounting and auditing responsibilities from the U.S. Treasury Department. Government spending and debt had risen sharply during World War I, which ended in 1918, and both review and control were needed. The Budget and Accounting Act, which established the GAO, also required the President to prepare an annual budget for the federal government.

Government programs and expenditures expanded sharply in the 1930s during President Roosevelt's New Deal to combat the Great Depression. The GAO's role, which originally focused on ensuring payments were made properly, grew in importance. By 1945, at the end of World War II, government spending had again soared, and the GAO began auditing government agencies to ensure they worked as intended.

By the 1970's, the GAO's work had expanded to include reviews of agency work on consumer protection, the environment and social welfare. Agency employees, who had originally been only accountants, began to include scientists, health care professionals and computer scientists. The GAO also conducts audits and reviews of the Pentagon, including U.S. military spending on both personnel and weapons systems.

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