General Accountability Office

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Previously named the General Accounting Office (GAO), the General Accountability Office is a semi-independent U.S. government agency, under the Congress rather than the President. It investigates how funds are spent, not just from a financial accounting standpoint but with analyses of the effectiveness of programs.

Its mission statement[1] charges it with:

  • auditing agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively
  • investigating allegations of illegal and improper activities;
  • reporting on how well government programs and policies are meeting their objectives
  • performing policy analyses and outlining options for congressional consideration
  • issuing legal decisions and opinions, such as bid protest rulings and reports on agency rules.

Nonpartisan leadership

The head of the GAO, who serves a nonrenewable 15-year term, is appointed by a process intended to be highly nonpartisan. Career GAO employees can rise to the position of Comptroller General.[2]

As with other senior officials, the Comptroller General is appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, but, as opposed to Executive Branch officials, the President does not create the list of nominees. Instead, a bipartisan Congressional commission creates a list of 3 nominees, from which the President chooses. The Commission, defined by the GAO Act of 1980, consists of:

  • The Speaker of the House of Representatives
  • The President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  • The majority and minority leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate
  • The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
  • The Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform


GAO audit rules are generally considered more stringent than those of the U.S. public accounting profession, under the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. After some major financial scandals with U.S. corporations, GAO and the AICPA have been working together to refine rules of professional responsibility for accountants. [3]


  1. General Accountability Office, About GAO
  2. General Accountability Office, How the Comptroller General Is Selected
  3. AICPA Chairman Calls for Reform, 15 February 2002