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American Watchdog Steps Down: GAO Looses A Great Ombudsman

February 24, 2008

With Comptroller General David Walker stepping down, America is at risk of having a yes man put in his place … America needs an effective Ombudsman.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Comptroller General David Walker, a leading voice for U.S. fiscal responsibility, on Friday announced his resignation to become head of a new foundation that will focus on nagging problems such as skyrocketing government spending and high health care costs.

As Comptroller General since 1998, Walker headed the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency. Walker was a regular, and respected, witness on Capitol Hill, testifying on issues ranging from how to rein in the spiraling U.S. debt to the turmoil in Iraq. Last September, Walker told Congress the Iraqi government was “dysfunctional.”

Under Walker’s leadership, the GAO filed suit against Vice President Richard Cheney, seeking details on meetings he held early into the Bush administration on input from private groups on energy policy. After a federal court ruled GAO could not force Cheney to provide the information, GAO decided not to appeal the ruling, angering many Democrats.

Walker repeatedly urged Congress to waste no time in reforming massive government programs, such as health care for the elderly, which will grow significantly as the U.S. population ages.

The Government Accountability Office faulted outsourcing projects at the Forest Service in a report released yesterday, prompting renewed calls for more scrutiny of the Bush administration’s effort to contract out federal jobs, a plan known as competitive sourcing.

The Forest Service does not have a realistic long-term plan for determining which agency jobs should be given to the private sector and does not have reliable data to back up claims of cost savings, the GAO said.

In addition, outsourcing substantial numbers of Forest Service jobs to the private sector could, over time, reduce the agency’s ability to fight fires in the wilderness and to respond to emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina.

“Congress needs to take a long, hard look at the administration’s competitive sourcing agenda after such a damning report,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said. He released the report with Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who said the administration “played fast and free with the facts in providing a different picture than the reality.”

As a general rule, federal agencies are supposed to rely on the private sector to perform work that can be easily obtained in the commercial marketplace, such as computer maintenance and cafeteria services. In 2001, the Bush administration began urging agencies to put more civil service jobs up for bid by contractors as a way to lower or better manage costs.

“We’ve been doing reviews of contracting for many years and, based on all of that body of work and our high-risk series, we’ve been able to identify and distill a number of issues that we think the Congress ought to focus on in the acquisition area,” Woods added.

As the government’s premier internal watchdog agency, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has cultivated a reputation for thoroughness and accuracy so sterling that its findings only rarely are challenged or repudiated, even by the squirming targets of its tenacious auditors. But lately the limits of GAO’s power to pry into the government’s inner sanctum is being challenged on several fronts, resulting in turf battles that raise serious questions about who in the government has oversight over whom.

GAO has the power and right to actually sue the executive branch of government!

The Project On Government Oversight remains a tried and true advocate for honest government in the era of disillusion and disenfranchisement.  POGO is a non-government organization with a similar mission as the GAO.

The Project On Government Oversight follows a rich tradition of assuring that the government continues to work for the people it represents. Our nation was founded on the very principle that representation and accountability are fundamental to maintaining a strong and functioning democracy. Today, these principles espoused by our founding fathers are under attack as our federal government is more vulnerable than ever to the influence of money in politics and powerful special interests. Read a letter from POGO to Congress:

Dear Senators Levin, McCaskill, and Webb:

The Project On Government Oversight would like to commend you for taking a stand against the President’s unconstitutional grab for power through his continued use of the signing statements, which undermine the power of Congress. As you know, in his latest signing statement, the President has said that he will not enforce the full accounting of tax dollars, as was required by the Webb-McCaskill Commission on Wartime Contracting. He would also subvert the protections for whistleblowers that are so important in combating waste, fraud, and corruption in federal contracting.

The President needs to be forcefully reminded that there are three branches of government in the United States. The American people and their interests are vested in their elected representatives. The President does not get to choose which laws passed by Congress he will uphold and enforce. The Constitution provides the President with the appropriate action if he genuinely opposes a bill: a veto. But once that law has passed, the President must uphold it.

A strong democracy requires the consent of the people, and they deserve that the laws be faithfully executed in accordance with the Constitution’s separation of powers.

Thank you for your continued leadership on this matter.


Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project On Government Oversight

GAO tries to trump government misbehavior at each turn. Their success rate will depend on the new director …

The Air Force general who got slammed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for his “borderline insubordination” for publicly saying the Air Force will get its desired 381 F-22s regardless of what the Pentagon leadership says, also told reporters last week that penalties should be imposed on contractors who make unwarranted protests of contract decisions. Though protests are up a bit, sustainment rates by the GAO are generally up too–meaning the GAO thinks an increasing percentage of a larger number of protests have merit. This may more likely reflect a failure on the part of the government side of the acquisition equation, not that of contractors. So this may be a gauge of the continuing weakness of the Air Force’s acquisition system, as well as other parts of the government.

Most people, even today, are unaware of the critical work of the GAO. The OMBUDSMAN for the American People is the GAO in light of media failures.  Most people are unaware that Project On Government Oversight is the best non-governmental tool we have.


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