Tester Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Empower Federal Watchdogs

U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) introduced the “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016.” The legislation will ensure that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is able to access the National Directory of New Hires Database to audit key federal programs on behalf of taxpayers.

“Good government is transparent and accountable to taxpayers,”
said Tester. “This bill will provide Congress with the ability to conduct proper oversight of federal agencies so they can better serve American families and communities.”

“Our legislation is simple: let the taxpayers’ watchdogs do their job,” said Sasse. “Right now, GAO cannot access a critical database to prevent fraud in government programs. We fix that and ensure that GAO has full access to the National Directory of New Hires. It’s an important step to ensure that Washington follows the laws and the system isn’t being gamed at the taxpayers’ expense.”

The “GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016” would ensure GAO access to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) database, equipping GAO to audit key federal programs on behalf of taxpayers.

The NDNH was created by Congress in 1996 primarily to assist state-level agencies enforce child support laws. Additionally, access to the database was given to a large number of oversight bodies at both the federal and state levels to improve accountability in the administration of major federal programs like Unemployment Insurance, SNAP, EITC, and student loans.

A disagreement between GAO and HHS over the interpretation of current law, however, has prevented GAO from obtaining access to the information. This legislation would clarify the intent of Congress to give GAO full access.

The bill does three things: First, it would clarify that GAO’s authority to access federal records includes access to the NDNH.

Second, it would strengthen GAO’s ability to bring a civil action in court by ensuring GAO has standing in the event an agency refused to disclose information GAO requires to fulfill its oversight and investigation duties.

Third, it would require GAO to keep congressional committees of jurisdiction apprised of any recommendations related to agencies they oversee.