Shooting the Messenger: Coburn Defends GAO

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released a new report criticizing proposed cuts to the Government Accountability Office.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released a new report criticizing proposed cuts to the Government Accountability Office.

“Shooting the Messenger: Congress Targets the Taxpayers’ Watchdog” says that GAO has identified hundreds of billions of dollars of duplicative and overlapping programs that could save taxpayers money and improve government service to them if Congress would only address those problems. But instead of adopting the reforms, the Senate Appropriations Committee has responded by proposing large budget cuts to GAO.

Some of the key points the report makes include:

  • Since 1992, GAO’s workforce has been cut by 40%, or more than 2,000 people, and its budget has been cut by 13% (inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Current budget proposals would cut GAO further by between 6.4% (House) and 7.6% (Senate). GAO believes its workforce will dip below 3,000 for the first time in its history.
  • In the last decade, Congress has increased its own budget from a combined $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion, increasing nearly twice as fast as inflation while simultaneously decreasing GAO’s budget.
  • Since the beginning of the decade, House staff has increased by 9% and Senate staff has increased by 24%.

The report also notes that Congress relies heavily on GAO reports. Requests for GAO audits and investigations pile up at a rate of roughly four every business day which amounts to between 900 and 1000 requests each year. Cutting GAO’s budget would reduce its ability to conduct effective oversight of the government.

The report makes four recommendations to help GAO:

  • First, restore GAO’s budget to prior levels and eliminate any planned cuts for 2012. GAO’s budget was cut in 2011, and further cuts in 2012 would do significant harm to the agency’s ability to conduct proper oversight of federal agencies.
  • Second, look for cuts within Congress’ own budget to achieve needed savings. Congress has given itself significant increases through recent years and can make additional cuts to offset the restoration of GAO’s budget.
  • Third, request that GAO identify areas of long-term savings in its own budget. In recognition that all agencies will have to sacrifice, GAO should also look for savings options over the long-term to tighten up its own budget.
  • Fourth, require agencies to reimburse GAO for audits that uncover significant waste and inefficiencies. Agencies that are found by GAO to have wasted significant funds above an established threshold should be required to pay for such audits. Similar practices are common at a variety of regulatory agencies, which perform fee-for-service oversight of the industries they oversee.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.