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merely contingent or additional duty, which indeed had been superadded to the duties of the commissioner of internal revenue duties and direct taxes, with which it had not the remotest connection or affinity, confer on the Fifth Auditor's Office the additional incongruous title of “Acting Commissioner of the Revenue,” though in fact he has nothing to do with the collection of the balances outstanding of the old internal revenue? Yet such is the light in which that assignment of lighthouse affairs is viewed by the Auditor, who accordingly adopts the additional title of “Acting Commissioner of the Revenue” in his printed list of lighthouses of the United States. Wherefore, it would appear that the officer enjoys three titles, viz, “Fifth Auditor,' “Acting Commissioner of the Revenue,” and “Superintendent of Lighthouses,” etc., the two latter emanating from one and the same function. There might also be included in this enumeration of titles that of “Agent (or law officer) of the Treasury,” for the prosecution of claims in behalf of the United States, which office was transferred from the First Comptroller to the Fifth Auditor by direction of the President in July, 1820, shortly after it was created, and which the Auditor exercised until the act of 30th May, 1830, created the office of Solicitor of the Treasury, to whom the duties exercised by the agent of the Treasury were then transferred by said act.
So far as the Treasury accounting system is concerned, the act of 1825 simply directed that the Postmaster-General “shall once in three months render to the Secretary of the Treasury a quarterly account of all receipts and expenditures in the said department, to be adjusted and settled as other public accounts.” A process of adjusting the Postmaster General's accounts was established in the Post Office Department under section 31 of the act.
The Sixth Auditor of the Treasury was created by the act approved July 2, 1836. Its origin is thus sketched by a former Auditor:
Prior to that year (1836) the Postmaster General had unlimited jurisdiction over all financial as well as administrative functions of his department. The revenues had, as a rule, exceeded the expenditures, and cash balances were deposited at irregular intervals in the United States Treasury. So many complications ensued from this system that an investigation was instituted by the Senate Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. The chairman of this committee, Senator Ewing, submitted a report ascribing the derangement of affairs in the department “to the uncontrolled discretion exercised by its officers over its contracts and funds.” President Andrew Jackson, in his annual message of 1834, adopted the suggestion of the committee and recommended that the Post Office Department be so reorganized that the final adjustment of accounts and disbursements be confined to officers appointed by the President and affiliated with the Treasury Department, so as to be entirely independent of the department whose transactions they were called upon to consider. The Senate committee, after further investigation, made a final report January 27, 1835. This report vividly portrayed the abuse which had grown up under the current system and urgently recommended such change in the organization of the department as would place the collection and disbursement of its funds under the control of officers entirely independent of each other. Hon. Amos Kendall, who had meantime become Postmaster General, in his annual report of December 4, 1835, strongly urged the proposed reorganization. He expressed his belief in the soundness of the principle that public officers who have an agency in originating accounts should have none in their settlement. He desired that the system of his office should conform to that already existing in the War and Navy Departments, which were organized upon that principle. He said: “The most important improvement required is to separate the settlement of accounts entirely from the Post Office Department and vest it in an Auditor appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.” In pursuance of the
foregoing recommendations the act of July 2, 1836, entitled "An act to change the organization of the Post Office Department and to provide more effectually for the settlement of the accounts thereof,” was passed. That act provided a separate Auditor for that department, who was authorized to settle all accounts accruing therein, subject to an appeal by either the Postmaster General or the claimant to the First Comptroller, whose decision was to be final.
Notwithstanding the said authority all accounts accruing in the Post Office Department were not settled by the Sixth Auditor. The accounts for salaries and incidental expenses were settled by the Fifth Auditor.
The Sixth Auditor's Office has also enjoyed a plethora of titles. It has been known as the Sixth Auditor's Office, the Office of the Auditor of the Treasury for the Post Office Department, and the Office of the Auditor for the Post Office Department.
The duties of the Sixth Auditor are thus defined by the statutes mentioned:
To receive all accounts arising in the said department or relative thereto, to audit and settle the same and certify their balances to the Postmaster General, provided that if either the Postmaster General or any person whose account shall be settled be dissatisfied therewith he may within 12 months appeal to the First Comptroller of the Treasury, whose decision shall be final and conclusive. The said Auditor shall report to the Postmaster General when required the official forms of papers to be used by postmasters and other officers or agents of the department concerned in its receipts and payments and the manner and form of keeping and stating its accounts. He shall keep and preserve all accounts with the vouchers after settlement. He shall promptly report to the Postmaster General all delinquencies of postmasters in paying over the proceeds of their offices. He shall close the accounts of the department quarterly and transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury quarterly statements of its receipts and expenditures. He shall register, charge, and countersign all warrants upon the Treasury for receipts and payments issued by the Postmaster General when warranted by law. He shall perform such other duties in relation to the financial concerns of the department as shall be assigned to him by the Secretary of the Treasury, and shall make to them, respectively, such reports as either of them may require respecting the
To the said Auditor was also assigned by law the performance of certain duties, such as authentication of papers, collection of debts, etc., which had been a part of the Postmaster General's work.
There was a marked difference between the first five auditors and the Sixth Auditor. The Auditors created by the act of 1817 received and examined their respective accounts, certified the balances, and transmitted the accounts, vouchers, and certificates to either the First or the Second Comptroller.
The Sixth Auditor was constituted along different lines. He received and examined the accounts of the Post Office Department, certified the balances to the Postmaster General, and preserved the accounts and vouchers after settlement. The First Comptroller's jurisdiction over the accounts of the postal service was appellate only. If dissatisfied with the Auditor's action, the Postmaster General or
the claimant had the right of appeal to the said Comptroller at any time within a year. The Sixth Auditor, it has been said officially, was both an Auditor and a Comptroller. It was decided that he was an officer of the Treasury Department and independent of the Post Office Department, but in an opinion of the Attorney General, rendered in 1855, it was held that the Sixth Auditor was an officer of both the Treasury and Post Office Departments, having privity of official relation with both.
The arrangement of the accounting branch of the Treasury Department, in 1837, may be summarized thus:
The First Comptroller was not only an accounting officer, examining the settlements of the First and Fifth Auditors and the Commissioner of the General Land Office, but he superintended the customs.
The Second Comptroller was engaged upon duties appertaining to an accounting officer, examining settlements made by the Second, Third, and Fourth Auditors.
The Commissioner of the Land Office managed the public lands and adjusted the accounts of the receivers of public moneys who sold the lands.
The Fifth Auditor, besides adjusting the accounts mentioned, superintended the Lighthouse Establishment.
The Fourth and Sixth Auditors were exclusively confined to the naval and postal departments.
The Second and Third Auditors adjusted the accounts of the War Department.
The First Auditor divided the Treasury accounts with the Commis-. sioner of the Land Office and the Fifth Auditor, while the latter audited the accounts of the State Department.
This system was defective in that it required the First Comptroller and Fifth Auditor to perform administrative work. The defect was remedied in 1849 and 1852 by creating the office of the Commissioner of Customs and the Lighthouse Board. The Commissioner of Customs was the “Third Comptroller” in the matter of accounts relating to customs.
A committee of retrenchment, appointed by Congress in 1842, was much impressed with the prompt settlements made by the Sixth Auditor. In its report the committee said that one auditor could adjust all claims of a department and that such arrangement was desirable because of the facility and method that would follow in the transaction of business. Fifty-two years later the suggestion was put into actual practice.
The only important change to be noted between 1849–1852 and the act of July 31, 1894, is the introduction of administrative examination of public accounts. It is said by one authority that such examinations of accounts were gradually practiced by the depart
to the Secretary of the Treasury, in the warrant division of whose office it is then filed as a basis for drawing a warrant.
When the expenditure has been incurred in the Treasury Department, the Register transmits to the Secretary of the Treasury copies of the certificates of balances adjusted
* and they are sent to the warrant division, and warrants issue, and other proceedings are had precisely as in accounts which pass the Second Comptroller, as before explained.
There are kept in the warrant division of the office of the Secretary of the Treasury and in the offices of the Register and First Comptroller separate appropriation accounts, in which are credited the amounts appropriated by Congress to each specific object, the Secretary issuing appropriation warrants to the Register and Comptroller therefor. These accounts, in each of those three offices, are charged with all warrants from time to time drawn against them respectively. * And the Second, Third, and Fourth Auditors, performing the duties of register for the War, Navy, and the Interior Departments, in whole or in part, also keep like appropriation accounts for those departments. * Thus the different officers of the Treasury Department have checks upon each other in the drawing of money from the public funds.
The Post Office Department accounts are kept, audited, controlled, and paid in an anomalous manner, as compared with all other Government accounts. All the revenues deposited in the Treasury on account of that department stand to the credit of the Treasurer of the United States for the service of the Post Office Department, and there is no comptroller of accounts as a separate officer.
Accounts are exam. ined by the Sixth Auditor, who performs not only the duties ordinarily belonging to an auditor, but also those of a register and a comptroller. * When he certifies a balance due, a warrant therefor is drawn on the Treasurer for the amount, signed by the Postmaster General and countersigned by the Sixth Auditor. It is then transmitted to the Treasurer, who records the same, directs, by an order on the face thereof, its payment out of the Treasury, and returns to the Postmaster General.
This is not only a warrant, but is a draft also, payable to the order of the creditor, and is delivered to him for collection, and upon that warrant and draft payment is made, the funds of that department not being subject to the warrant of the Secretary of the Treasury, as are other public moneys in the Treasury. *
If the Postmaster General, or any person whose account has been settled by the Sixth Auditor, is dissatisfied with the settlement, he may, within 12 months, appeal to the First Comptroller, whose decision shall be conclusive.
Such is the method of the final settlement of all accounts in the Treasury, omitting much detail which occurs in carrying on the general course of business.
The Joint Commission of Congress, appointed in 1893 to inquire into and examine the laws organizing the executive departments and to report whether greater efficiency and economy could be secured, said:
From the original status, with one auditor and one comptroller, the system had developed into a system of five auditors, acting under three independent comptrollers, one great department bureau (the General Land Office) settling its own accounts directly with a comptroller without the intervention of an auditor; and a Sixth Auditor who acted independently of a comptroller, except upon appeal.
The delays resulting from a triplicate system of examination were so great that the auditors became practically “dead letters” in the administration of the accounting branch, and the Government was of necessity compelled to rely largely upon the administrative departments to exercise oversight and secure a proper expenditure of the public money.
The commission's investigation and report culminated in the present system of accounting, consisting of one Comptroller and six Auditors, the name of each auditor indicating the class of accounts under his jurisdiction.
In contemplation of law the Auditors receive claims and accounts through the administrative officers. The latter approve or disapprove in whole or in part and add evidence or comment thereon for the information of the Auditors.
The Auditors receive and examine the accounts and vouchers and certify their findings, which certificates are final and conclusive on the executive departments, subject, however, to appeals to the Comptroller of the Treasury by the claimant, the heads of the departments or other establishments not under a department, and subject further to the power of the Secretary of the Treasury to direct a reexamination of the accounts. Says one authority:
The Auditor audits the account. It then passes from the hands of the bookkeeping division to the Secretary of the Treasury, and through the Comptroller's Office to the Treasurer, and then comes back to the Auditor with the amount and date of payment noted.
In the main, the procedure is comparable to the procedure of the judicial branch of the Government. The Auditors acting as courts of general jurisdiction pass judgments upon the accounts and claims before them. The Comptroller is the court of appeals to which the Auditors' decisions may be carried at any time within a year. The decision of the Comptroller is final and conclusive upon the executive departments.
This a very general outline of the scope of the accounting system. There are one or two innovations to be noted.
The first five Auditors certify their findings to the division of bookkeeping and warrants. The Auditor for the Post Office Department certifies his findings to the Postmaster General for accounts of the postal revenue and expenditures therefrom, and to the Division of Bookkeeping and Warrants for other accounts. Again, the law requires postmasters to send their money-order accounts direct to the Auditor for the Post Office Department, thus preventing any administrative examination. There are other duties required of the Auditor for the Post Office Department which are not required of the other Auditors. Those duties will be referred to later.
The intent of the act of July 31, 1894, was to lessen the number of accounting officers, to place greater responsibility upon the Auditors, and to hold them responsible for the settlement of accounts and claims and for the advances of money to disbursing officers and others.
The main duty of the Comptroller is to determine finally the construction of statutes.