Congress announced plans this week to starve the goose that's laying the golden eggs--and the name of that goose is the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Fairy tale knowledge a little rusty? Here's a refresher: once upon a time, there was a government agency that returned about $87 to taxpayers for every dollar the government fed it. In the last year alone, this agency—the GAO—laid $50 billion in golden eggs. Well, that’s what the magical goose said anyway, so take those numbers with a grain of salt. Anyways, despite the bird’s best efforts, famine struck and the government had to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts or else it was going to lose the farm to sequestration. But did Congress continue to feed this industrious egg-laying goose? Not exactly.
The Huffington Post reported this week that Congress has proposed slashing the GAO’s budget by about $50 million (the agency’s total budget is $557 million.) David Walker, who headed the GAO from 1998 to 2008, told the paper: “GAO generates one of the highest returns on investments of any governmental entity in the world, and that needs to be recognized.”
These cuts would also force the watchdog agency to consider layoffs, according to Government Executive. The president of a GAO’s Employees Organization, Ron La Due Lake, told the paper that both the agency and the union were concerned about the extent of potential cuts, and he “didn’t believe anyone was expecting it.”
According to the House Appropriations Committee, the cuts won’t substantially affect the work the office does. It wrote in a press release, “this funding level will allow the continuation of the essential work of the GAO to provide Congress with accurate reporting of how taxpayer dollars are spent, while cutting spending for additional hiring, travel, support contracts, and other lower-priority activities.”
But those working closely with financial oversight issues don’t necessarily agree. Sam Rosen-Amy, a federal fiscal policy analyst at OMB Watch, told POGO that GAO does a range of investigations no other government agency covers—like the recent in-depth report they did on transparency in the Recovery Act.
“I imagine with this budget cut you’ll lose $50 million worth of investigations. If Congress is really serious about streamlining the government and saving money, it should be increasing, not decreasing, the GAO budget and also listening to their recommendations,” said Rosen-Amy.
POGO’s Bryan Rahija pointed out earlier this year that in times of fiscal duress in particular, investing in oversight is ultimately “a boon for taxpayers.” Given that the GAO has demonstrated repeatedly that its earning potential far exceeds its investment requirements, it would be a shame for Congress to further strap the GAO’s resources.
After all, if Congress is anything like the Aesop Fable, “As the farmer grew rich, he grew greedy. Thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, the farmer killed it only to find—nothing.”
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.
Image via Project Gutenberg.