Appropriations Bill Critical of GAO

Posted September 30, 2003 at 6:14pm

A last-minute addition to the legislative branch appropriations conference report chides the General Accounting Office because an aide missed a meeting due to a “personal commitment” and instructed the agency to adhere to a “non-partisan protocol for formal briefings.”

“The legislative work schedule is always complex and never convenient, but the GAO must always work within the context of that schedule,” read the report, which was passed by both chambers last week. If a personal commitment prevents a GAO staffer from attending a Member or staff briefing, “the individual’s supervisor shall attend in that person’s place.”

Comptroller General David Walker, who runs GAO, described it as a “last-minute and surprise assertion.” Indeed, the language was in neither the House nor the Senate bill prior to the conference.

“I followed up on this matter because I was concerned when I saw this language,” he said.

A source familiar with the language said it was inserted at the request of the minority staff on the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch after a GAO aide missed a bipartisan briefing due to a scheduling conflict. Representatives of neither the House nor the Senate Appropriations committee returned calls seeking comment.

“I was surprised and disappointed to see this language in the conference report on what appears to be a single, isolated incident,” Walker said. He did not elaborate on the specifics of what led to the insertion but did say, “I care very much what staff members have to say, but in the final analysis I work for the Members.

“I believe it was inappropriate that it was handled in this way,” he added, rather than the affected party letting GAO know of the concern privately. “My phones work.”

Walker also enumerated the protocols GAO already has in place to ensure the agency does its work according to professional standards and added that he has received no indication of any related concerns beyond this one incident.