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question. We are removing certainly an independent auditing system that now exists, an auditing system that is responsible only to the Congress and not to the Executive.
Mr. Buck. Responsible only to himself.
Senator BYRD. I am not talking about individuals, Mr. Buck; I am speaking of the law. The General Accounting Act, if you will read it, sets up the Comptroller General as an independent officer responsible only to the Congress. If he has not properly performed his duties the law is not responsible for it.
Mr. Buck. We are providing a system here that permits this joint congressional committee to bring up the administrative officers and reprove them for any misappropriation of funds. It also permits of greater expedition in the payment of bills. I think it is going to be much more salutary upon the administrative officers than is the present system, in which they dilly-dally along for 2 or 3 years and accounts are settled with great delay. No report is made to the Congress upon the findings of the Comptroller General; there is no chance for a committee of Congress to review his work.
Senator BYRD. All of his opinions rendered are a matter of record, are they not?
Mr. BUCK. Oh, yes; some of his opinions are published; but, Senator, that is not the whole job of an auditing office.
Senator BYRD. Are you condemning this system because of the alleged incompetence of the man that is Comptroller General, or are you condemning it as a policy of government ?
Mr. Buck. I am saying that fundamentally the system is incorrect. Congress, having made the appropriations to the Executive, should leave the Executive free to perform the service which those appropriations specify. In the end Congress should check up to see what the Executive did. This system which we propose is a system to permit Congress to check up in the end.
We believe that the present Comptroller General's office delays and interferes with the functions which rightly belong to the Executive and that it does not help Congress in the least to demand accountability on the part of the Executive for the funds expended. We believe, too, that the proposed system does provide a method by which accountability can be established, whereas the present system fails completely to do it.
Senator BYRD. In other words, your claim is that Congress, the agency that appropriates the money, should have no control over the expenditure of that money after it is once appropriated ?
Mr. BUCK. Yes; it should have complete control, but the control should come at the end in the form of a review.
Senator BYRD. You cannot control expenditures, Mr. Buck, if the control does not occur until after the expenditure has been made. You provide that Congress has no voice in it until after the money has been spent.
Mr. BUCK. Congress has all the voice. It makes the appropriations, it itemizes those appropriations as it sees fit, it puts its agents right out in the field to see what the administrative officer is doing in the spending of the money—to report not only on the vouchers that come to Washington, as is now the case, but to look at the accounts. The Comptroller General never looks at the books now.
Senator BYRD. This agent of Congress only reports after the money has been spent.
Senator BARKLEY. Talking about the recovery of money, is it not a fact that Congress appropriates certain money, it itemizes it, excepting where it makes lump-sum appropriations. The expenditure of that money is an executive matter and not a legislative matter. The Congress is through with it when the appropriation is made.
While some officers may, in the exercise of their judgment misinterpret the law, it may be an honest misinterpretation. It may turn out to be an illegal expenditure in the sense he may have misinterpreted the law. Most of it, I imagine, is honest, it is a misinterpretation of the law, but isn't any theory on which we are going to try to recover this money that has been spent by mistake a pure daydream? There never has been any recovery.
Mr. BUCK. Well, being a Member of Congress you should be better qualified to say so than I am.
Senator BARKLEY. I would like for anybody to point out a case where the Government has ever recovered any money from an administrative officer who made a mistake in the expenditure of that money.
Mr. Buck. They usually seek the relief which they need from Congress.
Senator BARKLEY. They do, and they get it.
Senator BYRD. At that point, Mr. Chairman, I would like to insert in the record quite a number of expenditures that have been prevented by the Comptroller General, and large sums of money saved to the Congress and the people of this country that, if they had been spent, would not have been recovered.
Senator BARKLEY. In that connection, it might be said that the Comptroller General has prevented the carrying out sometimes of the very object of the Congress in appropriating the money. If he is the agent of Congress he ought not to thwart the desires of Congress.
Senator HARRISON. Mr. Buck, where there is an exception and they cannot agree about this audit, does it not come to this committee?
Mr. Bock. It ultimately comes to this committee.
Senator HARRISON. Then it is up to the Congress to do what it wants with it?
Mr. Buck. That is right, and Congress can check the misuse of funds by the way it makes the appropriation in the beginning.
Senator HARRISON. If there is some money that has been expended to some individual, what is keeping the Attorney General's office from authorizing the district attorney to proceed in the collection of it?
Mr. Buck. Nothing. That procedure is open still, under this new scheme.
Representative COCHRAN. I would like to clear up one matter. You stated with emphasis on several occasions we never had a perfect auditing system. You say it is wrong. Is that due to the failure of the officials to set up what you think is a proper auditing system, or do you think that is due to the failure of Congress to pass proper laws?
Mr. BUCK. Well, I should say in the first place, that there was some misunderstanding about the proper basis of the system in the beginning, and that the legislation should be corrected.
Representative CocHRAN. In other words, under existing law you feel a proper system could be set up?
Mr. BUCK. I do not think it could, under existing law.
Representative COCHRAN. You could not change the existing system to meet your objections?
Mr. Buck. No; I think those objections are too fundamental. You now have an agent set up who can interfere with the Executive.
Representative Cochran. Setting aside interference or control, as it has been called, could the accounting system be so arranged that we would have a proper kind of a system, if we eliminate that control and interference?
Mr. Buck. Not unless you can put the accounting system under the Executive who needs it in order to operate the business of the Government.
Representative CoCHRAN. You do not think an independent agency can possibly have a proper system of audit and accounting unless it is under the executive branch of the Government ?
Mr. BUCK. The two functions are incompatible. The controlling and accounting officer cannot make an effective post-audit, because he is making it against his own transactions.
Representative COCHRAN. In order to get information, I am trying to eliminate this control entirely, not let us take it out entirely.
Mr. BUCK. We do that, we put it in the executive.
Representative Cochran. In order to get information say we will let the control go to the executive branch and say the Congress has no power, under the Constitution, to control the appropriation once it is made. Say we take that away from the Comptroller General. Do you then say that the Comptroller General is not in a position to change his present set up so that we will have a perfect auditing system?
Mr. BUCK. Sure, if he will delegate those functions.
Representative COCHRAN. Remember now only for the sake of argument, the Congress takes that control away from him.
Mr. Buck. You are taking away the settlement of claims from him?
Representative COCHRAN. No, we are not taking away the settlement of claims, we are just taking the control away from him. Do not get claims confused with control.
Mr. BUCK. That is the settlement of claims.
Representative COCHRAN. We are talking now about the Comptroller saying the Cabinet officers cannot spend this money.
Mr. Buck. All right.
Representative COCHRAN. We will say the law will not permit him to do so, that has been taken away.
Mr. BUCK. Yes. Then he becomes this Auditor General that we are talking about.
Representative Cochran. We'll say he is the Auditor General now. Mr. Buck. Yes, but he is a Comptroller General now.
Representative COCHRAN. All right. Let us take the words “Comptroller General” out, let us take the title “Auditor General."
Mr. Buck. You have got to take the two functions away.
Representative COCHRAN. Let us take the Comptroller General's name away and substitute the Auditor General. A name means nothing, it is the power Congress gives that counts.
Mr. Buck. Yes, but you have given him the supervision of administrative accounting and the settlement of claims.
Representative COCHRAN. Why do you have to take away the settlement of claims from the Comptroller?
Mr. Buck. That is a control function, that is an executive function.
Representative COCHRAN. You say that the settlement of claims belongs solely to the spending agency, in your opinion?
Mr. Buck. Yes, that is correct.
Mr. Buck. Well, as I have said several times, it is an executive function. The department or agency which enters into a contract should be able to complete the transaction and then it should be reviewable by a congressional agency in order that our system of control will be complete. You haven't got that now. That is what I would like to see the Congress have, a review at the end of the fiscal period of appropriations which it made at the beginning. Probably you cannot do anything about misexpenditures, but you can get that information. You can chastise the administrative officers in a way, and you will have the information in the preparation of the next Budget, which is very important. You can then deny to the administrative department that has transgressed certain appropriations.
Senator BYRNES. Could you make this action public, so that the people might hold responsible the officials who wore guilty of misconduct?
Mr. Buck. It could be. The hearings of the joint committee could be open to the public, if you choose.
Senator TOWNSEND. Mr. Buck, the Comptroller General and General Accounting Office at the present time are under the control of the Congress—not the Executive?
Mr. BUCK. Well, we ordinarily understand it that way, but the Comptroller General is not reporting to you. I always thought it was encumbent upon the chief of an establishment to report at some time or other upon what he was doing and how he was doing it. But the Comptroller General just files all of the records he gets, and that is the end of it.
Senator TOWNSEND. It is your opinion that he is under the control of the Congress and not under the Executive, isn't it?
Mr. BUCK. Yes; that is the way it is understood.
Representative COCHRAN. Let me ask you to explain this: Assume you are an official of the Government, you have made a contract for the construction of a building, it is your duty to immediately file a copy of that contract with the new Comptroller General or Xuditor General, you supervise the construction of that building, and under the contract, the contractor agreed to do certain things, and among other things he agrees to complete that job within a given period, and the contract is let partly on that basis, because the Government is going to have that building occupied at a given time and save rent; now, he fails to ca out the contract and you place a penalty on' him, that the contract provides, for every day that he failed to turn that building over to the Government completed, and you deduct that from the amount of money that is due ħim; of course, he protests; now, if you take the settlement of claims away from the Comptroller General, who is the contractor going to appeal to from your decision? Is the bureau chief's decision final? Mr. BUCK. No; he appeals to the fiscal control unit in the Treasury.
Representative COCHRAN. He appeals to the Secretary of the Treasury, a man who at the present time is the superior of the men who handled the matter, because the Government agency that contracted for the building is under the Secretary of the Treasury?
Mr. Buck. He may also appeal to this Auditor General, who is an agent of Congress.
Representative COCHRAN. What objections can you have to the Comptroller General or Auditor General considering that claim, having your arguments and the contractor's arguments, and his decision being final, as it is today, unless there is an appeal to the Court of Claims? What objection is there in that?
Mr. Buck. The same argument that I stated before.
Representative COCHRAN. He does not control the expenditures, he is deciding whether or not you were right.
Mr. BUCK. Yes; but then he is stepping over into administrative affairs.
Representative COCHRAN. The claim did not reach him until you denied the contractor his money. He is not controlling. You want to be in complete control-your decision to be final.
Mr. BUCK. Of course, under the system that we propose here it is possible for those contractors to file their complaints with the Auditor General, and it is possible for him in his postaudit, to investigate them and to make a report to this congressional committee. That can be done and that should be done, as a matter of fact.
Representative CoCHRAN. Why put that burden on a congressional committee? Do you not think that the Members of Congress have got enough to do now without considering claims against the Government? We are in our offices from 8 o'clock in the morning until 7 o'clock at night, and are lucky to go home at 7 o'clock at night on many occasions.
Mr. Buck. You would not do the detailed work, you would simply sit on the major issues.
Representative COCHRAN. In other words, you would have men similar to bureau chiefs in Congress to say what the Comptroller General is now saying, and when you get through we would either put our stamp of approval or disapproval on that; is that right?
Representative TABER. Is that correct?
Representative TABER. Now, Mr. Buck, you have been into this situation from the standpoint of interference by the Comptroller with administration, have you not?