What goes into a GAO report?

Federal News Radio set out to find out what it takes to produce a Government Accountability Office report. It turns out, a lot of hard work, a handful of dedica...

Federal News Radio set out to find out what it takes to produce a Government Accountability Office report. It turns out, a lot of hard work, a handful of dedicated employees, the patience for hours of painstaking research and maybe even some good old-fashioned detective work.

Janet St. Laurent, the managing director of the Defense Capabilities and Management team at GAO, discusses two reports that demonstrate the variety of investigations GAO undertakes. The first, a report on the military drawdown in Iraq required an on-the-ground look at the Defense Department’s plans for managing military bases and contractors as the military withdrew.The second report, detailing duplicative federal programs, began with a line-by-line reading of the President’s budget.

The scope of the report: “We were not looking at whether there should be a drawdown, whether the pace of the drawdown that the U.S. government and the executive branch had determined was the right pace of drawdown,” St. Laurent said. “We were focused on: Did they have good plans in place to execute in an efficient and effective manner. Were they considering all the key issues that needed to be considered and planned for in order to effectively and efficiently manage that work.”

The team: A team of analysts in Washington and Iraq worked on the report. The in-country team visited bases in Iraq and interviewed contractors and military commanders.

All told, “just a handful” of employees worked on the report, St. Laurent said. And even the three analysts in Iraq were also working on other GAO projects at the time, she added.

The timeline: “We could have issued a report after the drawdown was completed that talked about, documented, maybe, problems that DoD had experienced,” St. Laurent said. “But we thought it was more important to provide status reports throughout the process and make some recommendations that hopefully could be addressed while there was still the opportunity to act on the issues and lessons that we were pointing out.”

The scope of the report: “We found a fair amount of overlap in federal programs, but when you really start comparing programs in a particular area — whether it’s housing or a science, technology, engineering and math program — most often what we saw, is that they have some commonalities but they’re not exactly the same,” St. Laurent said.

The team: A core team, of about 12 people, which St. Laurent led, worked on the report throughout the year. Nearly all of the 13 mission teams worked on the report in some way.

The timeline: The report, part of an annual mandate from Congress, took about a year to produce. As soon as the first report was finished last year, the agency turned around and began working on this year’s, St. Laurent said.

“And we’re in the process now of starting our work on a 2013 report,” she added. “So, it takes a full year to, again, do the work and report out on these efforts.”

Check out the rest of our special GAO series:

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