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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
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 reports 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
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 they!
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 ?
Representative MEAD. Not the Comptroller General in that case, for the reason that the Post Office Department had the right to acquire sites.
Mr. BROWNLOW. Does not the Comptroller General audit all the accounts?
Representative Mead. Oh, yes; the Comptroller General audits all of those accounts.
Mr. BROWNLOW. He keeps the accounts of the Post Office ?
Representative Mead. I presume if the Post Office Department purchased a site across the street, and there was nothing wrong with it, the Comptroller General could not stop the purchase.
Mr. BROWNLOW. But the Auditor General, in the system we have provided, would have the power to go into that, not only into the legality, but into the fact, say, that here is an appropriation for chairs where there is no question about the legality of the use, and the Auditor General would be able to give you the information, whether those chairs were needed or whether they were ever bought and delivered.
Representative COCHRAN. Suppose he made an exception and he held the money could not be spent for that purpose, his power ends there?
Mr. BROWNLOW. Yes.
Representative COCHRAN. Therefore the administrative officer can spend the money if he desires, which he will do. It is not compulsory on the part of the administrative officer to ask the Attorney General for an opinion? Mr. BROWNLOW. No.
Representative COCHRAN. How is Congress ever going to find out whether the Auditor General was correct or not to say whether it was an illegal expenditure?
Mr. BROWNLOW. The report would come immediately.
Mr. BROWNLOW. Then the Congress can send for the administrative officer involved and say, “Why was this?"
Representative COCHRAN. He can say, "We feel that it is legitimate and we spent the money.". Now, we cannot get a report from the Attorney General unless we pass an act of Congress, the Attorney General will not give an opinion to the Congress of the United States under any consideration.
Mr. BROWNLOW. But you would get your Auditor General's report, and you would get it at once.
Representative COCHRAN. We would have to decide ourselves. We would have to be the judge of whether or not the expenditure was legal or illegal. Mr. BROWNLOW. I agree with the way Senator Robinson put it a
ago. You make the appropriation. The Congress makes the appropriation, and it puts any limitation it so desires on it. Then it is the responsibility of the Executive to expend that money in accordance with the law. Then it is, in my opinion, the obligation and the duty of the Congress thereafter to review in an orderly manner those expenditures to see whether or not those were made by the Executive in accordance with the law, and that cannot be done by
what Mr. Vinson calls fishing expeditions, but there must be some regular orderly procedure by which to report all of the expenditures to the Congress, those to which the auditor has made no exception, and those to which he has made exception, as well.
Representative COCHRAN. The Congress is going to be the judge in the matter unless the administrative officer asks for an opinion from the Attorney General.
Mr. BROWNLOW. No; the Congress would be the judge of whether or not the administrative officer, the executive officer, had or had not obeyed its mandate, but it would not be in a position to interfere in the processes of that administration determination.
Representative COCHRAN. I understand that fully. It is not going to interfere, but just going to decide after the money is gone.
Mr. BROWNLOW. As is now the case in practically all the cases.
Representative CoCHRAN. We are going to decide ourselves and we are not to have the benefit of an opinion of the Attorney General unless it is asked for, that is my point.
Mr. BROWNLOW. I am not informed on that particular point.
Representative COCHRAN. I confirmed my own opinion with Mr. Hester a few minutes ago, and he says I am absolutely right.
One other matter I would like to clear. You gave an example of the purchase of that typewriter. Is it not true, Mr. Hester,
before a dollar is spent, either on personnel or for supplies, if a requisition is made for additional help or for supplies, before that is approved somebody says that the money is there to pay?
Mr. HESTER. Yes.
Mr. BROWNLOW. That is an administrative check. You have got the administrative checks, and the administrative checks as to the department would not be disturbed at all. That would be continued,
Representative COCHRAN. I was inclined to dismiss that control system from my mind, Mr. Brownlow.
Mr. Brownlow. I am glad you do.
I would like to say it is very useful to have this question brought up, but I would like later to submit for the record a brief summary, so it will appear in one place, the types of information that the Auditor General under the proposed plan could furnish to the Congress which it has not heretofore had.
Our committee thinks that one of the most important features of our whole report on administrative management in the entire Government, the entire executive branch of the Government, is the sharpness of the accountability of the executive to the Congress for the manner in which it has exercised its responsibility under laws and under the appropriations that have been made to it by the legislative.
Representative COCHRAN. Let me ask you one more question, not speaking of the merits of Mr. Vinson's suggestion at all in reference to investigations, if that plan was carried out would not we have the same complaint from the executive branch of the Government, about the investigators interfering with this administrative management?