Thursday, November 3, 2016

On Evaluation and Being Right in the Federal Government

The Comptroller General of the United States, Gene Dodaro, recently visited the Humphrey School of Public Affairs for a day full of events and conversation around program evaluation, getting the facts right, and how the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sets out to make a difference.

The federal government’s “watch dog” organization started doing financial audits, back when we could count all the Federal vouchers that were given out. Today, their approach is primarily focused on program evaluation and implementation.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Dodaro how the GAO balances accuracy and expediency, while at a "Theory to Practice" event hosted by the PNLC and the Dean's Office. If Congress makes a request because they are trying to write a bill, how does the GAO balance the political timing of that request, with its evaluation’s integrity?

Mr. Dodaro answered that the GAO is primarily concerned with being right. Their main strength is their reputation for nonpartisan evaluation work. A politically “on time” report that is not completely accurate fails to be useful, and damages the GAO’s reputation in the long run.

The GAO has a team to investigate every area of the Federal government, generally at the request of Congress, though the Comptroller General can also initiate investigations. A part of the Legislative Branch, the GAO is the counterpart to OMB of the Executive branch.

Their reports cover issues from Federal AircraftDOD Contract ServicesDOD Intelligence, and Ebola Response, and those are just a few reports released in the past two days!

GAO’s recommendations are implemented about 80% of the time for program improvement in the Federal government.

The Washington Post recently posted an article about GAO practicing what they preach, especially regarding the gender pay gap and female executive leadership. The GAO boasts 41% of women in senior executive roles, above the government-wide average, and years ahead of the 16% rate in private companies.

By: Lauren Walker Bloem
Lauren is a student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, pursuing an MPP in Governance and Human Rights. She works for the PNLC during the school year, and worked at the Government Accountability Office in Washington, DC this past summer.

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