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Comptroller General of the United States


COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, the head of the General Accounting Office (GAO), which was created by the Budget and Accounting Act of 10 June 1921. The comptroller general is appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate for a fifteen-year term and is subject to removal only by a joint resolution of Congress for specified causes or by impeachment. The comptroller general directs an independent agency in the legislative branch that was formed to assist Congress in providing legislative control over the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds through a postaudit function. A power of the comptroller general that has sometimes been controversial is the function of "settling" accounts. In practice this amounts to passing upon the legality of expenditures by governmental agencies; if such expenditures are not in accordance with the law as interpreted by the comptroller general, they may be disallowed. Thus, in essence, a preaudit function has evolved.

The 1921 law vested the GAO with all of the powers of the six auditors and the comptroller of the Treasury, as set forth in the Dockery Act of 1894 and in other statutes extending back to the original Treasury Act of 1789. The law also broadened the government's audit activities and established new responsibilities for reporting to Congress. Although the GAO continues to audit government financial records, it now also evaluates the overall efficiency of government programs and aids Congress in its legislative oversight duties.


Mansfield, Harvey C. The Comptroller General: A Study in the Law and Practice of Financial Administration. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1939.

Mosher, Frederick C. The GAO: The Quest for Accountability in American Government. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979.

Trask, Roger R. Defender of the Public Interest: The General Accounting Office, 1921–1966. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, 1996.

Guy B.Hathorn/a. g.

See alsoExpenditures, Federal ; General Accounting Office ; Office of Management and Budget .

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