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Senate Wrangles Over Proposed Changes to GAO

Photo: Sergej Khackimullin

Current budget proposals strike hard at Congress’ investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office, and its defenders are rallying against the widespread layoffs and regional office closures they say such cuts would cause.

The agency has identified billions of dollars in savings in recent years, but its operational budget may be cut by up to $50 million this year.

Government spending critics such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) often rely on the GAO to spot waste, fraud and abuse. Coburn and others are pushing back against efforts by peers such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) who want the GAO to change operations and reduce costs.

Coburn is warning against a mandate that would detail spending information for the more than 1,000 reports and audits that the GAO produces annually. This would be “an overly burdensome mandate that would further consume GAO’s dwindling resources without providing any obvious cost benefit,” Coburn and four colleagues wrote in a letter to Nelson’s subcomittee last week.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) also formally argued such a detailed policy could result in “a politicization of the GAO report process as members and committees are criticized for spending money on a GAO analysis.”

House and Senate appropriators are aiming to decrease all congressional spending by 5.2 percent in the next year. Thirty-seven long-serving GAO employees who have been offered buyouts and early retirement have accepted the offers, a GAO spokesman said.

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