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Not unexpectedly, Comptroller McCarl's expansionist and independent activities

raised objections, especially during the New Deal period. Referred to as the "watchdog of the Treasury,'

" 26/ McCarl, whose 15-year term lasted until 1936,

incurred the wrath of the Democratic Administration.

On two occasions,

President Roosevelt attempted to limit the Comptroller General's powers through

reorganization but those efforts failed.

Following McCarl's retirement, the

office's responsibilities were handled for three years by Acting Comptroller

General Richard Elliott, an Indiana Republican, much in the same mold as


The disputes between the GAO and the newly-formed TVA became legendary,

prompting TVA's own comptroller, E.L. Kohler, to criticize the GAO, its

powers and methods:

It has long been recognized that the Comptroller General
regards himself not as an accountant but as a glorified watch-
dog, and that he has surrounded himself with a narrow-visioned
legal staff that recognizes no superior except a decision of
the Supreme Court directly in point. In my opinion, he has more
than once been saaly out of line with the spirit of the Budget
and Accounting Act of 1921 from which he derives his primary

A review of his report (1934) and frequent contact this
year with the field staff, convinced me quickly and decisively
that the field staff had made no real audit originally and had
made none since; the staff has consisted of persons styled "in-
vestigators" who have had little accounting training or experi-
ence; and the 1934 report was in no sense an audit report but
rather a disorderly miscellany of fact and fancy that could
succeed only in misleading the reader, regardless of his skill
in auditing, accounting, or sleuthing. 27/

In mid-1939, Fred Brown, a former Democratic Senator from New Hampshire,

was appointed Comptroller General.

Brown had served on a joint congressional

committee investigating the GAO operations regarding the TVA and participated

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Statement made in 1939 in Congressional testimony, recorded in Brown.

op. cit.

P. 21.


in recommending changes in methods and investigatory personnel, some of

which recommendations were incorporated in the 1945 Government Corporations

Control Act.

Brown apparently had little difficulty in being confirmed by

his former colleagues in the Senate but served only 14 months, resigning

because of ill health.

His replacement, also nominated by President

Roosevelt and a former congressman, was Lindsay Warren.

Warren encountered

little opposition at the time of his appointment and throughout his tenure.

In fact, Warren's efforts to improve the GAO professionally, to increase

its operating capacity, and to extend its domain to government-owned cor

porations (through the 1945 Government Corporation Control Act) resulted

in one analyst calling the office "the new GAO". 28/

The next appointment of Comptroller General occurred in December, 1954.

President Eisenhower nominated Joseph Campbell (who was eventually confirmed

by the Senate), who served as treasurer of Columbia University while Eisen

hower was president of the university and who was a member of the Atomic

Energy Commission.

The difficulties Campbell experienced in the confirmation

hearings appear to have been confined to the Dixon-Yates controversy.


Holifield, then a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, advised

that Campbell, as Comptroller General, "should disqualify himself when the

Dixon-Yates contract came before the GAO on the question of payments under

the contract, because they would be payments he (Campbell) 'has been sponsoring.'"29/


Gerald Schulsinger. The General Accounting Office: Two Glimpses. no. 35, Inter-University Case Program Series. University of Alabama.

Case 1956.


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p. 551.

- 19

The current Comptroller General, Elmer B. Staats, had served in the

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executive counterpart to the GAO, the Bureau of the Budget, from. 1939 to 1953

and from 1958 to 1966, the latter years as Deputy Director.

For part of

the interim he served with the NSC.

The appointment of Staats evidenced

general support.

Although this is but a cursory review of the appointments of the Comp

trollers General, it is evident that at the time of nomination and confirma

tion there was little opposition to the nominees and few attempts to in

trude upon their independence.

When such

attempts were most likely,

following the McCarl and (Acting Comptroller General) Elliott tenure, 1921

1940, President Roosevelt nominated a former Senator who had been one of

the critics and proponents of reform of the GAO.

The most intense contro

versy surrounded Joseph Campbell due to the Dixon-Yates dispute.

One pos

sible reason for the limited criticism of the nominees appears to be the

partisan configuration at the time of the appointments.

At the time of

each of the five appointments of Comptrollers General, coincidently, the

same party occupied both the White House and Capital. Thus, inter-party

conflict would not have exacerbated the potential conflict inherent in the

appointments to an office which investigates the executive at the behest of the legislature. Other factors, such as the background and experience

of the nominees, have undoubtedly been important considerations in muting which has experienced the ramifications of the Comptroller General's independence criticism of a nominee. On the issue of independence, it is the executive / (from executive | departments). Congress as an institution has been less concerned in debate

with the office'i Independence (from the Congress) and has enhanced the Comptroller General's independence (from the executive) throughout the years.

Frederick M. Kaiser
Analyst, American National Government
Government and General Research Division

September 26, 1975

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Congressional Research Service

By Stuart Glass, Legislative

Attorney, American Division,
October 1, 1975




This is in response to your request of September 10, 1975, for

an analysis of S. 2268, entitled the "General Accounting Office Act of


This memorandum will be in two major sections:

a section-by

section narrative analysis of the bill, and an analysis of the legal

aspects of the authority which would be delegated by the bill to the

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bring suit for declaratory relief against any employee or officer of the

United States to prevent the unlawful expenditure, obligation, or author

ization of public funds; would provide procedural remedies to assist the

Comptroller General in gaining access to records of non-federal persons

and organizations regarding federal contracts; would provide a procedural

remedy to assist the Comptroller General in enforcing access to records


of federal departments and establishments regarding federal financial

activities; and would authorize the Comptroller General to conduct a

profits study of contractors having contracts with the federal government.

Title I.--Title I of S. 2268 would amend the Budget and Account

ing Act of 1921, as amended, 31 U.S.C. $$42, et. seq., by adding a new

section 320, which would permit the Comptroller General of the United

States to institute a civil action for declaratory relief in the United

States District Court for the District of Columbia whenever he: the performance of any of his functions
authorized by law, has reasonable cause to
believe that any officer or employee of the
executive branch is about to expend, obligate,
or authorize the expenditure or obligation of
public funds in an illegal manner, ....

$ 320(6), S. 2268, $101.

Section 320(b) of the Act, as proposed to be amended, would

further authorize the Attorney General, if in disagreement with the

Comptroller General, to represent the defendant official in any such action.

Other parties, including the prospective payee or obligee, would be allowed

to intervene, or could be impleaded as otherwise provided by law.


other parties would be entitled to be served with notice or process.

Beyond the territorial limits of the District of Columbia, process would

be permitted to be served by certified mail.

Section 320(c) would permit the payment of interest at the rate

of six per centum per annum upon any payment for goods or services actually

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