The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday, sponsored by senators from Nebraska and Montana.
The “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017,” will strengthen Congress’ ability to oversee major federal programs.
The bill would ensure the Government Accountability Office can access the National Directory of New Hires database, equipping GAO to audit unemployment insurance claims, quarterly wage data, and information on new hires, Sen. Ben Sasse said.
The GAO is a watchdog organization within the government that often reports to Congress, providing needed facts for legislative decisions.
Last March, the GAO was unable to comply with Sasse’s request to audit school lunch programs to ensure that assistance was targeted to kids who needed it most.
Sasse said Congressional approval represents a hard-fought victory for taxpayers.
“It’s also a rare, bipartisan victory for common-sense,” he said. “GAO’s mission is built on the simple fact that Washington is supposed to work for the American people – now, for the first time, these watchdogs will have access to a critical database to make sure that happens.”
Sasse said ensuring GAO’s access to the data will improve accountability of major federal programs, such as unemployment insurance, disability insurance, food stamps, earned income tax credits and student loans.
John Tester (D-Mont.) cosponsored the bill, which is described by the Government Accountability Office as its top legislative priority.
The bill heads to the President for his signature.
Tester said the bill sheds more light on federal spending and holds government more accountable.
“Giving GAO the authority to access the National Directory of New Hires will ensure that the taxpayers’ watchdog can root out overpayments and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse,” Tester said. The NDNH was created by Congress in 1996 but a disagreement between GAO and HHS over the interpretation of current law has prevented GAO from obtaining access to the information.
The legislation clarifies the intent of Congress to give GAO full access to the data and for the first time will make it possible for GAO to provide robust oversight of these programs. Last March, the GAO was unable to comply with Sasse’s request to audit school lunch programs to ensure that assistance was targeted to kids who needed it most. The Sasse-Tester bill does three things:
Clarifies that GAO will have access to federal records in the NDNH. Strengthens GAO’s ability to bring a civil action in court by ensuring GAO has standing in the event an agency refused to disclose information GAO requires to fulfill its oversight and investigation duties. Requires GAO to keep congressional committees of jurisdiction apprised of any recommendations related to agencies they oversee. Last April, Sasse and Tester introduced S. 2849, which passed the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously in September.
This year, they reintroduced S. 17 for the 115th Congress. The bill had a lot of bipartisan support.
It was cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), David Perdue (R-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Risch (R-ID), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Todd Young (R-IN).