Testimony of Dan Lips to the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee

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Chairman Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera-Beautler, and Members of the Subcommittee:

My name is Dan Lips. I am Head of Policy at Lincoln Network. I respectfully urge the
subcommittee to fully fund the Comptroller General’s budget request of $810 million for the
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for FY2023 (an increase of $91 million or 12.7
percent). Fully funding his request would allow the Comptroller General to increase GAO’s
staffing by 100 FTEs. In addition to providing funding, I respectfully urge the Committee to
consider ways to increase GAO’s return-on-investment through several reporting requirements
aimed to leverage its nonpartisan oversight to achieve taxpayer savings and other government
improvements.

The Comptroller General estimates that GAO’s annual return-on-investment has been $158 to $1
over the past five years. During that period, GAO’s work resulted in more than 1,300 program
and operational improvements. Overall, GAO’s work has resulted in more than $1.2 trillion in
financial benefits since 2002.

But these positive financial contributions for the federal government are only the tip of the
iceberg of what GAO could accomplish if the nonpartisan watchdog agency had additional
resources and its recommendations were implemented in a more timely manner. For example,
GAO states that there are 4,666 open recommendations as of May 4, 2022, including 418 priority
recommendations. The latter recommendations could “save large amounts of money” according
to GAO.

How much could be saved if GAO had more resources and agencies acted upon its
recommendations in a timely manner? The answer is likely tens if not hundreds of billions of
dollars. For example, my review of nonpublic data showing GAO’s financial accomplishments
from 2002 to 2019 found that more than 200 of GAO’s recommendations have resulted in more
than $1 billion in financial benefits during that period.

The Committee has already provided leadership focusing attention on the potential taxpayer
savings that could be achieved by implementing open GAO recommendations. The report
accompanying the FY2022 legislative branch funding bill included the following reporting
requirement that requires the Comptroller General to estimate potential cost savings:

The Committee is concerned with the potential waste of federal tax dollars due to
departments and agencies in the Federal Government not implementing GAO
recommendations. The Committee directs that no later than 180 days after enactment of
this Act, the Comptroller General shall provide the Committees with a report estimating
the financial costs of unimplemented Government Accountability Office
recommendations by agency.

In the report accompanying the FY2023 funding bill, the Committee should request a similar
report for the next fiscal year to continue focusing attention on what could be saved if these
nonpartisan recommendations were implemented. In addition, the Committee should consider
additional reporting requirements to identify how Congress could achieve taxpayer savings and
other government improvements by leveraging GAO’s nonpartisan oversight.

First, the Committee should direct the Comptroller General to report to Congress about
the feasibility of setting deadlines for federal agencies to implement open
recommendations.
According to GAO’s 2021 performance and accountability report, GAO’s
4-year implementation rate for recommendations made in FY2017 was 76 percent. That is
below GAO’s target of 80 percent. Moreover, only 45 percent of GAO’s recommendations made
in FY2019 were implemented within two years. Improving the timeliness of this implementation
rate and helping GAO to achieve its goal of 80 percent implementation within four years would
drive significant taxpayer savings and government improvements.

In 2015, Deloitte published an analysis of past GAO reports and examined the issue of the
timeliness of implementation. Authors Daniel Byler, Steve Berman, and William D. Eggers
explained that,

GAO could address this issue by setting target completion dates for implementing each
recommendation and then making real-time data available to the public showing how
long it is taking each agency to implement GAO recommendations.

Given the Committee’s bipartisan interest in achieving taxpayer savings and helping GAO to
increase its impact, Congress should require the Comptroller General to study and report on the
feasibility of establishing target completion dates for open recommendations and publicly
tracking the status of agencies’ implementation to improve transparency and government
accountability.

Second, the Committee should instruct the Comptroller General to report to Congress
recommendations for curbing improper payments by establishing a “permanent analytics
center of excellence” within the oversight community.
In March 2022 testimony, Comptroller
General Gene Dodaro explained that federal agencies reported making $281 billion in improper
payments in FY2021. This was an increase of $75 billion in improper payments made compared
to the prior fiscal year.

GAO has issued several recommendations for how Congress and federal agencies could curb
improper payments. In addition, GAO’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team
has been developing technology solutions to improve payment integrity. The Comptroller
General recently described “10 ways to improve oversight of emergency relief funds and future
federal spending.” He recommended that Congress establish “a permanent analytics center of
excellence to help the oversight community better identify improper payments and fraud.” To
help address the annual $271 billion and growing problem of improper payments, the Committee
should require the Comptroller General to provide a report to Congress with specific
recommendations to curb improper payments including by establishing a permanent analytic
center of excellence within the oversight community.

Third, the Committee should ask the Comptroller General to provide a report to Congress
with a blueprint for how the Government Accountability Office could use a more
substantial funding increase to expand its oversight, enhance GAO’s technical capabilities
and create additional taxpayer savings and other government benefits.
While the Committee
and Congress have provided GAO with funding increases in recent years, the Government
Accountability Office continues to operate below its historic funding and staffing levels.
Specifically, budget reductions in the 1990s resulted in significant staffing and budget cuts to
GAO’s operations. If GAO was funded at the same percentage of discretionary spending as it
was in the early 1990s, its budget would be more than $1 billion today.

In 2022 and beyond, additional funding for GAO could be used to enhance the agency’s
information technology systems and capabilities. Such investments could serve as a force
multiplier for the entire organization’s work by improving productivity, expanding the work of
GAO’s Innovation Lab, and protecting sensitive information.

Since GAO routinely returns more than $150 in financial benefits to taxpayers for each dollar
that it is provided, Congress should recognize the substantial taxpayer savings and other
government improvements that could be made if GAO’s fully recovered from the 1990s era
budget and staffing reductions. In its FY2023 report, the Committee should require the
Comptroller General to describe how GAO would expand its staffing and operations if its budget
was increased to more than $1 billion, or more. Specifically, it should explain what it could
accomplish and its estimated return on investment should its funding be increased by $100
million, $200 million, $300 million, or more, and the annual rate at which it could absorb such
an increase. This report should include a description of how a larger GAO could improve
oversight and governance, achieve taxpayer savings, and deepen its responsiveness to members
of Congress. GAO should also explore whether there are alternative funding models that might
be appropriate to support its work.

Conclusion

The funds that Congress appropriates to the Government Accountability Office are among the
best tax dollars that the government spends on behalf of the American people. GAO regularly
reports a return-on-investment of more than $150 to $1. In FY2023, the Committee should fully
fund the Comptroller General’s budget request and require the Comptroller General to report to
Congress on new ways that the Legislative Branch can leverage GAO’s nonpartisan oversight to
make the federal government work more efficiently for taxpayers.

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Dan Lips
Head of Policy
Zach Graves
Executive Director
Grace Meyer
Chief Operating Officer
Marshall Kosloff
Media Fellow
Luke Hogg
Policy Manager
Deepesh Chaudhari
Senior Fellow