GAO to lawmakers: Spend money with us to save money governmentwide

The Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office defended their increased budget requests to Congress, emphasizing the amount of returns...

When Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States and leader of the Government Accountability Office, wants more money, he has to justify it to his bosses just like everyone else. So when he asked Congress for a bigger budget, Dodaro pointed out how much money the GAO already has saved the federal government.

“We have a lot of money going out the door… and a lot of money that should be coming into the federal government’s coffers that’s not coming in,” Dodaro said to members of the Senate Appropriations Legislative Subcommittee on March 8. “Without changing any laws, just by following the current rules that are in place. And GAO can make a better contribution and thus help Congress deal with these caps if you make the investments in us.”

Dodaro rested much of the defense of his requested budget increase on his agency’s record, pointing out the $74 billion it saved the government last fiscal year, up from $54 billion the previous year.

The GAO is requesting a $36.8 million increase in funding, which would give them a total budget of $567.8 million in fiscal 2017. In the 2016 request, the agency asked for a $31 million increase and got $9 million, bringing them up to $531 million this year.

Dodaro justified this increase in funding by highlighting how other agencies followed about 80 percent of the recommendations GAO made. He said this resulted in the government receiving a $134 return on every dollar invested in the GAO, a 34 percent increase from the previous year.

Dodaro said the major challenge facing the GAO is succession planning, which is where most of this money would be allocated.  Dodaro said 42 percent of GAO’s senior executives and 25 percent of its supervisory analysts are eligible to retire by the end of fiscal 2016.

“We have no problems hiring highly qualified people,” he said. “Our mission is great. People come to GAO because they can make a difference in government and we’ve got a great track record of actually making a difference. We don’t just do studies and reports. Our recommendations get acted on. We’re only limited by the amount of money.”

Dodaro said there were two major opportunities for the government to save more money his agency would be able to explore with increased funding. The first is improper payments, which reached more than $1 trillion in 2015 and have steadily risen over the last three years. He said healthcare is a specific area of concern with improper payments.

The second opportunity is the tax gap. Dodaro said taxpayers owe the IRS about $385 billion.  He said 84 percent of that figure is people under-reporting income. The other 16 percent is people who either don’t file at all or don’t pay.

Without legislation, Dodaro said, the IRS lacks the ability to properly enforce the tax laws and collect this money. The GAO is studying the effects regulation of tax preparers has on these figures, and found that in areas where regulation exists, such as Oregon, tax returns are far more accurate.

Keith Hall, director of the Congressional Budget Office, also was at the hearing. Hall requested a budget increase of $1.1 million for the CBO, citing a need for three more full-time employees, primarily to examine the costs of health care legislation. He said that the CBO has difficulties hiring, due to “salary compression.”

“Right now our senior people are capped at a level that’s below a lot of similar agencies … salary-wise,” Hall said. “We haven’t had an increase in our max salary for a while, and we do have to compete with other government agencies, let alone the private sector.

The CBO also is hindered by the inability to hire foreign nationals on non-immigration visas, Hall said. He said they comprise half the number of prospective candidates with the required doctorate degrees.

Legislative subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) expressed support for both agencies’ requests.

“I think there’s broad bipartisan consensus about the need for accountability,” Schatz said. “This is where we can show that we mean it. I think GAO and CBO both deserve the resources to make sure the taxpayers’ dollars are spent in an accountable fashion, and I’ll certainly do whatever I can.”

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