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Mr. STAATS. I could not answer that.
Mr. KELLER. Mr. Chairman, the best of my recollection, it was about 2,500. I would have to verify that for the record.
Senator METCALF. You started out with about 2,500 employees?
Mr. KELLER. That is correct. During World War II it went up to nearly 15,000. At the present time, it is roughly about 5,300 people, between 5,300 and 5,400.
[The information referred to and subsequently supplied follows:]
EMPLOYEES OF THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
When established on July 1, 1921, the General Accounting Office had approxi. mately 2,000 employees. An April 15, 1946, 14,904 persons were employed by GA0—the highest in its history. On October 25, 1975, we had 4,794 permanent, full-time employees.
Senator METCALF. I just asked for those general figures, I am not asking you to be precise, to show how it has grown since it was started, just as any other agency
grow. Mr. KELLER. I would say it grew a lot and then came back down again. Of course, we changed the nature of our work in the process. Senator METCALF. The high point was how many, 15,000 ?
Mr. KELLER. Close to 15,000. As I recollect, it was around 14,600. That was right at the end of World War II, 1945.
Mr. STAATS. The nature of the work, of course, has changed over the period of time because there has been new legislation, particularly the work that we are trying to do in the area of economy and efficiency and evaluation of programs, the kind of programs that we work with you on in outlining in title VII of the Congressional Budget and Accounting Act. This has meant a different type of employee than we had earlier. More and more our staff is professional staff drawn from different fields, and less and less so strictly individuals with accounting and auditing background.
Senator METCALF. During World War II and the end of World War II when there was such a rapid expansion of contracting authority and war production and then such a rapid reduction, I suppose that there was a great need for your accountants to go into those special industries that we haven't found in the more stable sort of a situation.
Is that correct?
Mr. KELLER. Basically, that is correct, Mr. Chairman. But actually during World War II the General Accounting Office was concerned a great deal with auditing of individual payments to defense contractors and we had a great number of people in the various war plants throughout the country and that is how the staff did build up at that time.
Senator METCALF. You don't do that anymore?
Mr. KELLER. Primarily it is done by the internal auditors of the agencies. We then check them to make sure they are doing a good job. For example, the Defense Contract Audit Agency has about 2,800 people whose sole purpose is auditing defense contractors of the military service.
Mr. Staats. Our job then became to audit their activities and then do enough of the testing to be reasonably certain that they are performing that function adequately.
We have to do some of it to be able to assure ourselves that they are doing it adequately.
Senator METCALF. When you are doing this monitoring job that you are talking about, are you working for Congress or are you working for the agencies, when you are monitoring the Defense Department?
Mr. Staats. We are working for Congress because the end result of our work is usually in the form of a report to the Congress in which we make recommendations for improvements in the operations wherever.we can make suggestions for those types of improvements. Or we are doing it at the request of a committee of Congress. As you may well know, the work we have done for the committees of Congress has now extended to practically every committee of the Congress, whereas previously it was very much limited to the Appropriations Committees.
But now we do work very extensively for committees such as Agriculture Committee, the Interior Committee, Foreign Relations, and virtually all of the committees of the Congress are increasingly calling upon us for help, which means that we have to have the capability to go into the agencies and examine their operations and find ways that we can to answer the questions that are of concern to the committees.
We have welcomed this trend, as I have indicated, and we have taken every feasible step we can think of to improve that kind of service to the committees, even to the point where we begin to have some concern that it is crowding out our capability to go in on our own in areas where we know there are problems but there is no request that originated with the committee.
As I say, this now represents a little more than one-third of our total activity at GAO, responding to these requests.
Senator METCALF. As you know, General Staats, the events that began to trouble the Congress, many of which related to your lawsuit in Staats against Lynn
Mr. Staats. I am sorry?
Senator METCALF. I say many of the events that caused the Members of Congress to be concerned about the special relationship you have relate to the lawsuit that you filed in Staats against Lynn. That was impoundment, was it not?
Nr. Stats. Now, I am not sure that I am following your question very well. But the suit that we have now relates to title X of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act.
Senator METCALF. Yes. With respect to that act and that suit, you filed a brief where you allege that you were independent of the Congress in performing your accounting function.
Is that correct?
Mr. STAATS. The background is that we filed a suit, as we are required to do under title X, and rather than responding to the substance of the suit itself, the Department of Justice filed a brief with the district court in which they argued that because we are a part of the legislative branch, that we had no status in the court because we were purely a "legislative agent" taking our instructions from the Congress.
We conceived that to be an erroneous interpretation of the role that we play and the statutes under which we function. That relates essentially to the points that are included in the statement here this morning
If you would like to go into that in further detail at this point, I would like for Mr. Keller and Mr. Dembling to comment on it in further detail.
Senator METCALF. Yes. I see some ambivalence and ambiguity here in your own description of what you feel are your powers. Sometimes you say you are an independent agency and sometimes you say you are à branch of the Executive and sometimes you say you are an arm of Congress, and sometimes you say you are none of those three.
But as I said in my opening statement, it has been alleged that you are a powerful and influential and almost uncontrollable "Fourth Branch of Government."
Mr. STAATS. Well, we have never said that and I don't intend to
Senator METCALF. I don't think you have ever said it, but you made some indications that others have said that.
Mr. STAATS. I think if you read that brief carefully we are trying to preserve the right of the legislative branch to have a status in the court. We are also arguing that the General Accounting Office by virtue of its statutory powers has the capability to go into court with respect to its so-called executive functions. These executive functions have been recognized by Congress since 1921, so that we weren't stating any new principle here.
Mr. DEMBLING. I might amplify, Mr. Chairman. When the Justice Department representatives answered the complaint that we filed initially, their sole response was in terms that we were the Congress bringing this action and that we were bringing this action solely on behalf of the Congress. Therefore, because of the separation of powers, there was no standing to sue in the court, and therefore the act was unconstitutional; they asserted that the provision in the Impoundment Act that gave the GAO authority to go into court was unconstitutional.
Our response to that was that the General Accounting Office was not solely a congressional agent bringing this suit, that it was a mixed functional agency. It had executive power and it had legislative power. There were executive functions that were being performed and those were stated as settlement of accounts and prescribing accounting systems and that sort of function.
There were also legislative functions. We indicated that even if we were a legislative body completely, that we had a right to go into the court and sue, that the Congress had the right to give the Comptroller General this authority.
So what we were arguing was, in the alternative, that if we were a legislative body solely, or if we were an independent body solely, we still have authority to bring the action. And nowhere did we indicate that we were not an arm of the Congress. What we were doing was arguing in the alternative.
What we did indicate was that it was an independent action that was being brought and that the Comptroller General in his independent status was bringing this action. He was not bringing it at the direction of the Congress. And the Impoundment Control Act does not direct the Comptroller General to bring the action. It indicates that he
is empowered to bring an action when he finds certain activities have transpired.
Mr. Staats. Title X requires we make a finding that there has been withholding of money contrary to the law. That is a discretionary action, assigned to the Comptroller General by the Congress in title X.
So what we are saying here, and I agree that it is not an easy concept to state, is that the Congress has in effect and in fact assigned Executive-type responsibilities to an agency that is located within the legislative branch. This is settlement of accounts. This is the prescribing of accounting principles and standards. This is approval of accounting systems.
I would argue that the discretion that was given to the Comptroller General under title X is in some ways an Executive-type discretionary matter. But I see nothing inconsistent in any way with the idea that the Congress would establish an agency within the legislative branch which would have some functions of an Executive-type nature in order to assure itself that funds are properly accounted for and that funds are spent legally and in accordance with the intent of the Congress.
Now, if you go back, you find in the beginning, in the 30's, there was an effort made to transfer those functions out of the GAO and put them in the Treasury. There was a committee set up in 1937 which recommended that that be done. There was a major fight in the Congress about that, and Congress rejected it.
Again the Hoover Commission made that proposal. The Congress again examined that and rejected it. They knew clearly that these were of a cross-type Executive function, but they felt they were essential to preserve the prerogatives of the Congress. That is why those functions are there.
Senator METCALF. You know, General Staats, the high regard I have expressed for the way you have administered the General Accounting Office. This is just, on my part at least, an academic research exploration to find just how we can strengthen that Office and make it more responsive to Congress.
It bothers me a little bit that you suggest that perhaps you want to be so completely objective that you might neglect some of the minority groups instead of represent the minority groups as you suggest. You might neglect changes in the composition of the Congress during the course of the rather long career in 15 years of service.
There are many who feel that there should be a little more congressional control. That doesn't mean political control in the sense of politics, Democrats against Republicans. It means political control in the sense that it is assured in the Constitution that we have certain political powers now.
I value you and your agents coming up here to talk to us about it. We are going to have some of the critics up here to make some suggestions about how the reorganization might be made.
We do in the legislative branch of Government delegate executive functions not only to you but to the regulatory agencies and other agencies, and we give them certain powers to sue, and yet they are arms of the Congress. Perhaps we could do better by splitting the GAO and keeping in one branch the auditing and investigative authority, and in the other branch, in another agency perhaps, not the Treasury, the other matter that you were talking about that was rec
ommended by an advisory committee and transferred to Treasury in 1930. Do
you have a comment on that? Mr. Staats. Let me say two things here. One is that when we stress independence, we are stressing the point that the Congress looks to GAO to be completely objective and unbiased in whatever it produces. As they say, we try to call them as we see them. We have no political tests of anybody appointed within the GAO. We have never had any pressure from any element of Congress to place people on a political basis.
We think that, and this is something that I have been increasingly impressed with since I have been with the Office, that a great deal of our strength is the fact that people trust us. It is the credibility of the Office.
Our powers are relatively unimportant to the total effectiveness of our operation. It is ability to take our reports and use them in a way which people have confidence that they have no bias, they have no motivation behind them, other than to reflect the intent of the Congress with respect to the program that we are auditing.
We are not unique in this respect with audit agencies around the world. We have less independence than some of the auditing agencies in other countries. All of them are not patterned along the same lines, but in most countries you will find very strong safeguards for independence on the part of the central audit agency.
In the English-speaking countries, for example, the Auditor General is appointed for an indefinite period and can hold office until he is age 65. The committees that he deals with are also chaired by a member of the opposition.
You will find similar safeguards. In France, for example, the auditors cannot be removed for any reason. They have even greater safeguards than we have with respect to the judicial area.
We believe, and have strongly, that the Congress would lose a great value if there ceased to be the confidence that I believe exists today that our reports are completely unbiased and they have no motivation bevond that I have stated.
With respect to the possibility of splitting the functions, I would like to say this: I don't know of any practical way that you could do it. These functions are so closely interrelated. For example, we go into an agency on an andit basis. If we find that funds have been spent illegally, then we call into account our settlement powers.
Or if we find that the accounting systems are not producing information which is essential to support the budget requests of the agencies in the Congress or for management or any other reasons, then we can call on the agency to change their accounting system in order to he able to be in conformity with our standards and our principles.
So the audit function that we have and the settlement function and the accounting functions are all so closely interrelated that I don't know of any practical way that you could separate them.
I would like to say this, though, if I may. Your thoucht here that GAO may become unresponsive to the interests of the Congress, I think the record of the growth of the reliance upon GAO for making reviews and for testimony and for a great deal of informal consultation throughout the Congress, would not seem to support that concern.