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We need a U.S. auditor

December 9, 2010 - Rob Weaver
I began working on Friday’s editorial by contemplating how most governmental entities actually have to budget money, meaning they must decide how to allocate a finite amount of dollars. For example, in Seneca County, there is a budget commission that informs cities and villages how much revenue it expects the entity will have at its disposal.

That doesn’t happen at the federal level. As far as I can tell, the president submits a plan for spending money. Later, the president and members of Congress wring their hands over how anticipated revenues will fall short of footing the federal bill. In the past 10 years, that gap has widened.

I’ve noticed another difference in local, state and federal governments. Entities from the state level on down undergo regular audits which review how taxpayer funds are being spent.

“With a statewide staff of more than 800 auditors and other professionals, the Auditor of State’s office is responsible for auditing all public offices in Ohio, more than 5,600 entities including cities, counties, villages, townships, schools, state universities and public libraries as well as all state agencies, boards and commissions,” the auditor’s website claims.

However, there is no U.S. auditor. The closest we have to that is the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress,” according to its website. It continues: “Often called the ‘congressional watchdog,’ GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. “Our Work is done at the request of congressional committees or subcommittees or is mandated by public laws or committee reports. We also undertake research under the authority of the Comptroller General. We support congressional oversight by • auditing agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively; • investigating allegations of illegal and improper activities; • reporting on how well government programs and policies are meeting their objectives; • performing policy analyses and outlining options for congressional consideration; and • issuing legal decisions and opinions, such as bid protest rulings and reports on agency rules. “We advise Congress and the heads of executive agencies about ways to make government more efficient, effective, ethical, equitable and responsive. “Our work leads to laws and acts that improve government operations, saving the government and taxpayers billions of dollars.”

But, as far as I can tell, GAO does not perform, say, annual audits of the various federal departments. That’s not a knock against GAO, which claims to have saved taxpayers nearly $50 billion — a return of about $87 for every dollar spent by the office. But with the federal government spending more than $3 trillion a year, it’s very likely money is being wasted, misspent, embezzled or even lost.

Maybe, before the feds even think about approving and implementing changes to eliminate the federal budget deficit, financial and performance audits need to be done on the entire U.S. bureaucracy. Sound crazy? No more ludicrous than allowing that bureaucracy to burn through ever-growing piles of money.

GAO was created in 1921 because, according to he office itself, “federal financial management was in disarray after World War I. Wartime spending had driven up the national debt, and Congress saw that it needed more information and better control over expenditures. The act made GAO independent of the executive branch and gave it a broad mandate to investigate how federal dollars are spent.”

That should include investigating how every federal dollar is spent.


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