December 10, 2015

Implementing Solutions: The Importance of following through on GAO and OIG Recommendations

Testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
  • Henry Wray

    Mercatus Center Visiting Fellow, Government Accountability Project
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Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Heitkamp, and members of the subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to submit a statement for the record of this important hearing. 

My name is Henry Wray. Most recently, I have been a visiting fellow with the Mercatus Center’s Government Accountability Project. Prior to that, I served as a staff attorney with your Committee as well as several House committees. I also worked for 30 years at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), primarily as an attorney and also for several years as a managing director. 

OVERVIEW 

Throughout my career, I have observed first-hand the vital role that GAO and inspectors general (IGs) play in enhancing federal government performance, supporting congressional oversight, and serving as “watchdogs” on behalf of American taxpayers. As illustrated below, GAO and IG recommendations save billions of tax dollars and achieve countless nonfinancial benefits each year. There are, however, some significant issues in follow-through on audit recommendations that I will highlight. 

  1. The data on how agencies implement recommendations lack transparency.
  2. Timely action on audit recommendations is frequently lacking.
  3. Agency accountability for addressing recommendations is too lax. 

As a result, Congress and the public are not realizing the maximum potential return on the crucial work of GAO and the IGs. I will offer several policy recommendations for legislative changes to enhance the visibility of audit recommendations and encourage agencies to act on them with a greater sense of urgency. 

VALUE OF AUDIT RECOMMENDATIONS 

Each year GAO and the 72 agency IGs issue thousands of recommendations designed to improve the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the federal government. For example, GAO’s recommendations resulted in financial benefits of $74.7 billion for fiscal year 2015. IG recommendations for fiscal year 2014 carried potential taxpayer savings of about $46.5 billion. Both GAO and the IGs also issue many recommendations carrying substantial nonfinancial benefits in terms of enhanced government performance and better service to the public. 

The work of GAO and the IGs provides overall perspective on the most serious problems facing the federal government and how to address them. For example, starting in 1990, GAO has issued a biennial “high-risk list” of operations across government that are most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or other major shortcomings. The current high-risk list contains 32 problem areas.1 Similarly, a law authored by this committee2 requires IGs to compile annual reports of the most serious management and performance challenges facing their agencies—in effect, agency-specific high-risk lists. These products, which reflect key GAO and IG recommendations, provide essential roadmaps for executive branch officials, congressional overseers, and others seeking to improve government performance. 

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