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The Comptroller General of the United States heads the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency within the legislative branch of the federal government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. When a vacancy occurs in the office of the Comptroller General, the Congress establishes a bipartisan, bicameral commission to recommend individuals to the President. The Comptroller General’s term of office is set statutorily at 15 years and he is not eligible for reappointment.
As GAO’s chief executive officer, the Comptroller General has overall responsibility for the operations of the agency. The Comptroller General works in a non-partisan and non-ideological manner with congressional clients and external parties. GAO supports the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and in helping to improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. The agency carries out audit, evaluative, and investigative assignments and provides legal analyses to the Congress. GAO performs work at the request of the Congress and under the Comptroller General’s authority. The agency conveys the results of its reviews through written products and through testimony to the Congress. GAO also issues legal decisions on matters such as disputes involving the awarding of government contracts. In addition to serving as the chief accountability officer for the federal government, the Comptroller General issues Government Auditing Standards and participates in audit-related international forums.
GAO’s planning and management framework is based on strategic goals, strategic objectives, performance goals, and key efforts. The Comptroller General sets the tone at the top of the agency and leads by example. He explains the importance of quality, professional standards, ethical conduct, character, and integrity through the issuance of quality assurance measures. He also communicates through external presentations, internal meetings and forums, question and answer sessions and chats, agency newsletters and other mechanisms. The Comptroller General ensures that GAO’s employees work efficiently and effectively within an appropriate organizational structure. The Comptroller General’s direct reports are the Chief Operating Officer, the General Counsel, and the Chief Administrative Officer/Chief Financial Officer. Along with the Comptroller General, these officials comprise GAO’s Executive Committee.
The Congress established the current procedure for nominating a Comptroller General when it passed the GAO Act of 1980. Under the act, the Comptroller General is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. When a vacancy occurs in the office of the Comptroller General, the Congress establishes a commission to recommend individuals to the President. The commission consists of the following:
- The Speaker of the House of Representatives
- The President Pro Tempore of the Senate
- The majority and minority leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate
- The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- The Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
The commission must recommend at least three individuals to the President, and the President may request that the commission recommend additional individuals. The President then selects an individual from those recommended to nominate as the new Comptroller General. The President's nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. Comptrollers general are appointed for one nonrenewable 15-year term.
The commission process has thus been followed three times now, leading to the President's nomination, and the Senate's confirmation, of the sixth Comptroller General, Charles A. Bowsher, in 1981 and the seventh Comptroller General, David M. Walker, in 1998, and the eighth Comptroller General, Gene Dodaro, in 2010.