Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Senator BYRD. The whole theory of this Accounting Act in 1921 is based upon that proposition. That certainly has been sustained through years, because it has been in operation for 15 years.

Representative VINSON. I know it may have been sustained, because there may not have been any way to reach it, but I think the legal support of the control features in the Comptroller General was a very, very weak one.

Mr. BUCK. Then it is your feeling, Mr. Vinson, that if it was brought up before the Supreme Court the whole thing might be thrown out?

Representative Vinson. If it could be reached. I do not think the legislative branch has the power of controlling expenditures appropriated by Congress of the Comptroller General.

Representative TABER. The Comptroller General was not set up as an agent of Congress. He was set up as an independent executive department. That was specifically declared in the law.

Representative Vinson. How is that?

Representative TABER. The Comptroller General was not set up as an agent of Congress, but he was set up as an independent executive department, an independent agency, independent of all executive departments. That is specific in the law.

Representative Vinson. Independent of all executive departments? Now, when is it independent of all executive departments?

Representative TABER. It does not say independent of the Chief Executive.

Representative VINSON. I see.
Representative TABER. It says of all executive departments.

Representative VINSON. Now, if it is independent of all the executive departments, where is it?

Representative TABER. It is an independent office evidently under the President.

Representative VINSON. Who removes? Who has the power under the act to remove the Comptroller General? It is the Congress?

Representative COCHRAN. Nobody has the power except the Congress.

Representative Vinson. I recall that, and it has always been understood it is legislative. Of course, if it is not of the legislative I take back all I said.

Senator BYRD. Of course, I am not a lawyer, and know nothing about the Constitution, but I should certainly think Congress has a right to prescribe the ways and means whereby the money shall be properly spent.

Representative COCHRAN. Congress can limit the purposes of the expenditures, but there are numerous decisions to support Mr. Vinson's contention.

The CHAIRMAN. I think the Comptroller General regards himself as an agent of the Congress rather than as an agent of the Executive. I have talked with him personally, and he has emphasized the fact that the Comptroller General is the legislative agent.

Senator BYRD. That is the basis of the act.

The CHAIRMAN. And therefore the pertinency of the remark of the gentleman from Kentucky, can Congress, after it makes an appropriation, through its agent, which is the same as it is itself for the purposes of this discussion, control the expenditure? The

point that Mr. Vinson makes is, to my mind, a very clear one, namely, that after the appropriation has been made upon any condition Congress sees fit to adopt it then devolves upon the Executive, and not upon the legislative, to make the expenditure in conformity with the conditions. If so, I think that it is a very serious question whether we can say by legislation that we not only make this appropriation and attach conditions for its expenditure, but we will make the expenditure, or make the expenditures, ourselves. I agree with Mr. Vinson that the Supreme Court would probably hold, or any other court would probably hold, that it is an effort to exercise a legislative function by the legislative department, and therefore futile.

Senator BYRD. The act of 1921 did just that, did it not, so it has been in effect 15 years?

The CHAIRMAN. I think it is true the bill intended to prescribe an agent of the legislative department, and not an agent of the executive. But that is the point Mr. Vinson makes, as I understand it, that we cannot, either in an act heretofore passed, or in an act hereafter to be passed, exercise a valid legislative authority by controlling an expenditure, by directing an expenditure, by making an expenditure after we have made the appropriation.

Representative Vinson. There is no question but what you could have control in the executive.

The CHAIRMAN. No.

Representative VINSON. Of course, that is sought here under this President's committee, to place that power of control in the Treasury, but it seems to me if you had the independent unit that would not be subservient to any department, or department head, that you would really have more independent control than you would if it were under a department.

Senator La FOLLETTE. Mr. Chairman, if there was as much confusion in the minds of Congress as to the functions that the Comptroller General would perform at the time it enacted the statute as this hearing has developed as to what he has been doing since the statute was enacted I can understand there might be some difference of opinion as to what the Congress had done and what it had not done when it passed the law. Now, Mr. Buck, I would like to ask you a few questions. May I?

Mr. BUCK. Yes, sir.

Senator La FOLLETTE. As I understand it, your position and the statements which you have made are not to be taken as any criticisms of any person or any groups of persons who have administered this act, is that correct?

Mr. Buck. That is correct.

Senator LA FOLLETTE. And that your criticisms are directed to what you believe to be the incompatible functions and duties which were imposed upon the Comptroller General, is that correct?

Mr. BUCK. Yes, sir.

Senator BYRD. Mr. Buck just stated there that he thought the duties could have been much better and more efficiently performed than they were. It is in the record.

Senator La FOLLETTE. Is it or is it not your opinion, Mr. Buck, that any individual, no matter who it would have been, who had been

a

confronted with the problem of attempting to carry out these functions which are in conflict, could have performed the function of furnishing Congress with this audit which we have been discussing? In other words, in your opinion, was there not such a terriffic amount of work imposed upon that department that it could not perform these dual functions, that it had, in other words, to make a choice!

As to which one of the functions it would carry out?

Mr. BUCK. I think I made the statement as to the volume of work. And then I will say the emphasis seems to have been on the control feature rather than on the audit; therefore, they overlooked the report to Congress. Senator LA FOLLETTE. One other question. There has been some

. discussion here as to the amount of knowledge which the Comptroller General and his staff obtained of executive functions and procedure as a result of the exercise of this control power. May I ask you whether that has not been largely theoretical in the sense that, under this centralized system, where all of these papers have flowed into the centralized office here at Washington, has it not been largely theoretical in the sense that they were examining papers rather than being in the actual field where the job is being done?

Mr. BUCK. Yes: I think that is correct.

Senator LA FOLLETTE. And, therefore, is it fair to assume that the knowledge of administrative technique and procedure which they have acquired as the result of their exercising this control function has been much more limited than would be the case if the decentralized system, which is suggested in the report of the President's committee, were actually to be put into operation?

Mr. Buck. I think that is also true.

Representative MEAD. Mr. Buck, we have explored all the weaknesses of the present plan. For the information of the committee, let us explore some of the weaknesses of your plan.

First of all, I feel you are creating a superdepartment of the Government, a department that will not only exercise

Mr. BUCK (interposing). You refer to the Treasury?

Representative MEAD. Yes. A department that will not only exercise all of its own functions, but because of its control over the purse strings it will control to a great extent the policies of the other departments of the Government. We might have the other departments running to the Treasury for appropriations instead of coming to Congress. As a result, we will get a lengthy technical report from that department annually which no one will read. Precedent proves that creating laws as between the Treasury and the Comptroller has not worked in the past. Then this will be thrown on the lap of the joint committee, which won't function; it will be powerless. Today we have a plan where they come before the committee and go away without a sufficient amount. Then, while they are spending that insufficiency, the policeman, the Congress, or the President—whoever might be acting-steps in and stops them, and pays a little more money. So you are substituting an agency, which might be a very poor agency, for one that looks effective now. Therefore, I think you might be creating a department of Government under a committee without power that gives us an annual report that won't be read. If there is anything wrong with that statement, you tell me

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

what it is. I am just sort of suggesting it as a sort of a guess as to what might happen.

Will your plan be more effective than the present plan? Will this joint committee work? Will this report be worth while ? Are you putting too much power in the Treasury Department ?

Mr. Buck. I had thought the proposed plan was properly balanced; that while there was a lot of power in the Treasury it would be tempered by this postaudit, and at all times that it would be on the spot, that it would be responsible, and it could not dodge or duck responsibility, and that the same thing would be true of all the accounting systems in the various departments. Now they can duck responsibility by getting a decision ahead of time.

Representative MEAD. We cannot put very much credence, or hope, rather, in the fact that we have not asked for an investigation to which we are entitled. We will all

pass away. Busy men will come to Congress to take our places. They won't ask for eports even though you put that privilege in the law. Therefore, such reports as we may get to this committee from this superdepartment of the Government will be no more effective than we might get from the Budget offices or the central accounting department.

Mr. BROWNLOW. May I suggest something to Mr. Mead which was in the minds of the committee in making its general recommendations? Of course, a particular detailed report, which you have just referred to as a large technical report, annually would be presented by the Auditor General. In addition to that, of course, there are various types of information he would present. In every case where there was an exception taken a report would come immediately to this committee, whether it was a committee set up just as we suggested in this bill, or some other committee with legislative functions. It would be some "receiving set" which Congress may devise to get this information. It would not merely be this annual report. It would be the certification and the verification of the accounts of the Treasury, where most of your fiscal reports come from, anyway, and always must, and there would also be the exceptions in particular cases to go to the superdepartment, as you call the Treasury, under this procedure.

If a question was raised by the Auditor General, whose agent is right in the field, that exception goes to the Secretary of the Treasury, his agent, and if it is not ironed out, and the other department has any complaint of what the Treasury has done in this respect, it has an appeal with the respect to his jurisdiction to the Attorney General, the chief law officer of the Government. Then his exception would come up to the Congress at once. Every administrative officer would know that that exception would be coming up to this joint committee, which presumably would, of course, have a staff of competent clerks. And those reports under the bill we present here have to be made daily. And the system, I think, would work very much better than what you have now, because it is a system that does work better in government-municipal government, State government--and in private business, than the one we have now.

I think essentially the difficulty with the present system, as was indicated in Senator La Follette's question and Mr. Buck's reply, that we have attempted here to confuse the two incongruous functions of

[ocr errors]

152419-37-18

[ocr errors]

control and audit. When they are confused the audit tends to disappear.

Representative TABER. How have we imposed control? Simply the Comptroller General has the power to fix the balances; that is the only way to refuse to allow improper and illegal expenditures.

Mr. BROWNLOW. I think this committee has, and I do not know, but this committee undoubtedly has very much better information than we have, because it has called on the executive departments for reports on matters of that kind, so I will not cite instances, since the committee already has a great deal more information than we have.

Representative MEAD. I am not saying, Mr. Brownlow, that this joint committee will not function effectively. I am just hazarding a guess, based on our experience with committees on expenditures in the past, as to what might be our experience in the future, and as to our laws and instances that will require reports. I have four or five sections here, all requiring reports to the Congress on expenditures, which I think in the future will prove just about as barren of results as they have in the past.

Mr. BROWNLOW. I think the requirement of the instant daily dispatch of these reports, where there is an exception, would start up administratively such a stream of reports of that nature that the Auditor General, the agent of Congress, could not by any chance forget it. And he would not have any other functions but to make those reports, nor could Congress forget it.

Representative MEAD. Let me illustrate, as you did a minute ago, how effectively the plan works. On one occasion I took up with the Comptroller the purchase of auto trucks by the Post Office Department in view of a method adopted there, whereby high bidders frequently became low bidders by ruling out the other bids on some technicality. And were it not for the fact that the Comptroller had the right to step in and stop payment the high bidder in some cases would have been awarded the contract.

Another case was the purchase of a post-office site in Chicago. The Marshall Field interests aroused local interest in a certain site. The newspapers brought out that the land was a gift to Chicago, but upon investigation we found that a very substantial profit had been made in selling to the Government. After acquiring the site, the Post Office Department decided the best place for the post office was over railroad tracks, which would eliminate haul and the dispatch of mail, and finally the building was erected over the tracks, and the vacant site, the so-called Marshall Field site, was left on their hands for disposal.

You are going to place in the Treasury Department the power to control and handle the purchase of sites, which would not be stopped under your system, but which could be stopped under the old system.

Mr. MERRIAM. Were thev?

Representative MEAD. Unfortunately the purchase I mentioned was not.

Mr. BROWNLOW. They were not stopped under the present system.

Representative MEAD. They would have been stopped if the proper officials had gotten on the trail of the matter quicker.

Mr. BROWNLOW. Who was supposed to get on the trail?

« PreviousContinue »