House Modernization Committee Passes Recommendations to Strengthen and Leverage GAO’s Nonpartisan Oversight
The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is building a track record of bipartisan success with nearly two-thirds of its recommendations from the 116th Congress being enacted to date. On Wednesday, the Select Committee passed its latest series of recommendations–including several proposals that would reform the way that Congress works with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The Committee’s latest recommendations include the following that are related to GAO and other Congressional support agencies:
“GAO annual report on unimplemented recommendations: GAO should report annually on the estimated cost savings of its unimplemented recommendations.”
“GAO report to congressional committees on legislative options: GAO should annually report to Congress on legislative options to address open priority recommendations.”
“Authorize STAA and make it a permanent part of GAO: The Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics program at GAO should be authorized and made permanent by Congress.”
“Enhancing the customer experience at GAO: GAO should boost initiatives to meet Congress’ information needs and assess member and staff awareness of and satisfaction with its products and services.”
“Bolster legislative support agency access to federal data and experts: Support agencies should report on challenges and potential solutions for accessing federal data.”
These recommendations will require action by other Committees and the House of Representatives as a whole. But the Modernization Committee’s bipartisan support for strengthening GAO highlights the strong interest among lawmakers to leverage nonpartisan oversight to improve governance.
In October, Lincoln Network’s Head of Policy, Zach Graves, testified before the Modernization Committee about this opportunity and urged several of these reforms:
“Over its hundred-year history, GAO has been a critical institution for policy formation and oversight within the federal government, eliminating wasteful inefficiencies, and driving significant value for taxpayers. With the availability of new technology tools such as machine learning, cloud software, and access to machine-readable government data, GAO has a monumental opportunity to modernize for the next century, and advance a vision to systematically transform Congress’s ability to understand and oversee federal programs in real time.”
The Modernization Committee’s recommendations to authorize the STAA, for example, would be an important step to ensuring that GAO moves forward using these new technologies to modernize oversight while also providing valuable advice to Congress to strengthen its science and technology capacity.
In addition, the Modernization Committee’s recommendation to require an annual report from the Comptroller General estimating the cost of unimplemented recommendations would have the potential to spur significant cost savings. Since 2010, GAO has annually reported on opportunities for the government to address duplication across federal programs and achieve cost savings. This work has resulted in $429 billion in savings between 2011 and 2019, according to GAO’s recent estimate.
Congress’s watchdog reports that “tens of billions more” savings could be achieved if currently open recommendations were implemented. But exactly how much could federal agencies save if they implemented the more than 4,600 currently open recommendations? An annual report to Congress estimating the potential cost savings would be valuable information for Congress to require agencies to implement GAO’s reforms. The House Appropriations Committee requested a similar report in report language accompanying the legislative branch funding bill earlier this year.
The Modernization Committee’s recommendation to require GAO to provide legislative options to Congress each year could also spur constructive legislative reforms to improve governance. While GAO has an impressive track record of seeing its recommendations implemented, Congress and federal agencies could do more to act on the watchdog’s nonpartisan oversight findings in a timely manner. For example, a quarter of GAO’s recommendations are generally not implemented within four years and many of the issues on GAO’s current high-risk list were first identified in the 1990s. Providing annual legislative options for Congress could be a good starting point for legislative reforms to address these challenge areas.
While much more must be done to ensure that Congress can fulfill its responsibilities under Article I of the Constitution, these recommendations and the broader work of the Modernization Committee are important steps forward.