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entitled 'GAO's Agency Protocols' which was released on October 21, 
2004.

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GAO's Agency Protocols: 

October 2004: 

GAO-05-35G: 

GAO's Mission: 

GAO exists to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional 
responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the 
accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the 
American people.

Scope of Work: 

GAO performs a range of oversight, insight-and foresight-related work 
to support the Congress, including the following:

* evaluations of federal programs, policies, operations, and 
performance;

* management and financial audits to determine whether public funds are 
spent efficiently, effectively, and in accordance with applicable laws;

* investigations to assess whether illegal or improper activities are 
occurring;

* analyses of the financing for government activities;

* constructive engagements in which GAO works proactively with 
agencies, when appropriate, to help guide their efforts towards 
transformation and achieving positive results;

* legal opinions to determine whether agencies are in compliance with 
applicable laws;

* policy analyses to assess needed actions and the implications of 
proposed actions; and:

* additional assistance to the Congress in support of its oversight, 
appropriations, legislative, and other responsibilities.

Core Values:

Accountability: 
Integrity: 
Reliability: 

Letter October 21, 2004:

This document contains the updated protocols that govern the U.S. 
Government Accountability Office's (GAO) work with executive branch 
agencies. The protocols provide clearly defined and transparent 
policies and practices on how GAO interacts with agencies in performing 
its work. As you know, GAO supports the Congress in meeting its 
constitutional responsibilities and strives to help improve the 
performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for 
the benefit of the American people. Although our primary client is the 
Congress and we must maintain our independence from the entities that 
are the subject of our work, we seek to continue constructive working 
relationships with the executive branch. In all cases, we seek to 
conduct our work in a professional, objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, 
and nonideological manner, in order to help improve government.

Since we began pilot-testing the protocols in December 2002, we have 
been monitoring their application. During this period, we have received 
comments indicating that the protocols (1) help to ensure a consistent 
and unified GAO approach throughout the federal government and (2) 
could benefit, in some areas, from additional clarification. In 
response to the comments, which were few in number, we revised the 
protocols to clarify our relationship with the agencies where we 
perform work and our methods of communicating and exchanging 
information. The highlights page of this document identifies these 
revisions as well as other important aspects of GAO's Agency Protocols.

Along with members of the GAO team, I look forward to using these 
protocols to continue to serve the Congress and the American people 
while maintaining a constructive working relationship with the federal 
departments, agencies, and other entities where GAO performs work. 
Questions or comments about GAO's Agency Protocols may be directed to 
Mr. Gene L. Dodaro, Chief Operating Officer, at (202) 512-5600 or via 
e-mail at AgencyProtocols@gao.gov.

Signed by: 

David M. Walker: 
Comptroller General of the United States:

Highlights of GAO's Agency Protocols:

1. GAO has broad authority to:

* investigate all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and 
expenditure of federal funds; and:

* evaluate the results of a program carried out under existing law 

- when ordered by either house of Congress,
- when requested by a committee of jurisdiction, or 
- on the initiative of the Comptroller General.

GAO has broad rights of access to a wide range of agency information, 
but has finite resources and can only perform work that is within its 
scope of authority and competency.

2. Objectives of GAO's Agency Protocols:

* Provide clearly defined, consistently applied, and transparent 
policies and practices on how GAO will perform work at the entities it 
audits, subsequently referred to as agencies.

* Identify what the agencies can expect from GAO and what GAO expects 
of the agencies.

* Cover most situations that arise during the course of GAO's work. The 
protocols build on practices that have proved successful in the past 
and supersede prior arrangements with the agencies, including 
memorandums of understanding.

* Are consistent with the protocols that govern GAO's work for the 
Congress.

3. Exceptions to GAO's Agency Protocols:

* GAO follows modified protocols for work leading up to congressional 
testimony and work performed by its Office of Special Investigations.

* The protocols are not applicable to work GAO conducts in support of 
legal opinions and decisions.

* The protocols do not govern GAO's relationship with the federal 
Inspectors General (IG) community. GAO and agency IGs are all part of 
the accountability community; therefore, the relationships between GAO 
and agency IGs are considered additional to, and separate from, these 
protocols.

Agency Protocols:

4. Communication between GAO and the agencies What agencies can expect 
from GAO:

* At least annually, at agencies where GAO has a substantial ongoing 
audit presence, GAO senior executives and leaders responsible for GAO's 
work will meet with agency-designated senior executives.

* GAO will notify agencies of work to be undertaken and coordinate the 
entrance conference, exit conference, and request for agency comments 
on a draft report through the agency-designated central liaison or 
primary point of contact.

* Where GAO's work involves reviews that cut across the federal 
government and require work to be conducted at more than one agency, 
GAO will generally send a notification letter to the applicable central 
agency, such as the Office of Personnel Management or the Office of 
Management and Budget, and notify the individual agencies of such work 
by telephone or e-mail message.

* GAO will generally give an agency from 7 up to 30 calendar days to 
comment on a draft report. The time will vary depending on the nature 
of the engagement and the needs of the Congress.

* When an agency-designated senior official provides oral comments, 
rather than the preferred written comments, GAO will summarize them and 
provide a copy of the summary to the official for verification before 
finalizing the report.

* GAO will discuss the status of recommendations in its publicly 
available database with cognizant agency officials on an ongoing basis. 
However, special attention is directed to the status of recommendations 
close to the end of each fiscal year.

What GAO expects of agencies:

* The entrance conference will be scheduled within 14 calendar days of 
GAO's request.

* The agency will promptly comply with GAO's request for access to the 
agency's records.

* Agency officials who have oversight of the issues related tot he 
engagement's objectives will attend the exit conference.

* Comments from the agency on a draft report will provide (1) a single 
position on the extent of their agreement or disagreement with key GAO 
findings and on any conclusions and recommendations and (2) the 
rationale for any disagreement.

* The agency's classification review of draft reports containing 
national security or sensitive information will be communicated (1) in 
writing, (2) in conjunction with the agency's submission of comments on 
the draft report, and (3) within the time frame identified in GAO's 
letter transmitting the draft report soliciting agency comments.

* When GAO issues a report containing recommendations to the head of an 
agency, GAO requests that the agency provide it with a copy of the 
statement of action that the agency prepares as required by 31 U.S.C. 
720.

Source: GAO. 

[End of Highlights]

Contents: 

Letter:

Highlights of GAO's Agency Protocols:

GAO's Agency Protocols:

Preface:

Source of GAO Work:

GAO's Approach:

Statutory Responsibilities:

Communication between GAO and Agencies:

Notification of GAO Work:

Entrance Conference:

Closeout Meeting at Field Locations:

Exit Conference with Agency:

Agency Comments:

Procedures for Soliciting Agency Comments:

Disposition of Agency Comments:

Testimony:

Disposition of Work:

Follow-up on GAO Recommendations:

Office of Special Investigations:

Access to Agency Information:

Press Policy:

GAO's Agency Protocols:

Preface:

This document contains the protocols governing the U.S. Government 
Accountability Office's (GAO) work at federal departments, agencies, 
and entities (subsequently referred to in this document as agencies). 
The protocols are the general principles governing GAO's relationships 
with federal agencies when GAO conducts its work at these agencies. 
GAO, in the course of its work, examines the use of federal funds; 
evaluates federal programs and activities; conducts investigations; and 
provides information, analyses, options, recommendations, and other 
assistance to help the Congress make effective policy, funding, and 
oversight decisions. These protocols are intended to enhance GAO's 
working relationships with agencies by building on practices that have 
proved successful in the past and by establishing a framework that will 
supersede prior arrangements with the agencies, including those set 
forth in memorandums of understanding. If there are sensitive areas 
that require special handling that are not covered by the protocols, 
GAO will discuss these areas with the affected agencies to determine 
whether a supplemental procedure is needed.

The purpose of these protocols is to set forth clearly defined and 
transparent policies and practices on how GAO carries out its work at 
these agencies. The protocols identify what the agencies can expect 
from GAO and what GAO expects of the agencies. They are expected to 
cover most situations that arise during the course of GAO's work. 
Furthermore, the protocols will help to ensure the consistency, 
fairness, and effectiveness of interactions between GAO and the 
agencies with which it works. The protocols reflect the framework of 
GAO's engagement and audit activities. These activities include 
communication between GAO and the agencies, interactions during the 
course of GAO's work, and follow-up on GAO's recommendations. GAO 
follows modified protocols in work leading up to congressional 
testimony and during investigations of fraud, abuse, or misconduct 
conducted by its Office of Special Investigations. These modified 
protocols are articulated in the sections of this document entitled 
Testimony and Office of Special Investigations.

These protocols are not applicable to the work GAO conducts in support 
of its legal opinions and decisions. GAO's General Counsel issues legal 
opinions in response to requests from the Congress and its committees. 
GAO also has statutory authority to render decisions on matters such as 
bid protests and the availability and use of appropriated funds. 
Further information about this work can be found in Bid Protests at 
GAO: A Descriptive Guide and Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, 
Volumes I, II, III, IV, which are available on GAO's Web site 
www.gao.gov.

In addition, these protocols are not meant to govern GAO's relationship 
with the federal Inspectors General (IG) community. GAO and agency IGs 
are all part of the accountability community; therefore, the 
relationships between GAO and agency IGs are considered additional to 
and separate from these protocols. GAO and IG interactions are intended 
to underscore a constructive working relationship that effectively 
leverages resources; builds a mutual knowledge base; and maximizes the 
oversight of federal programs, offices, and activities. For example, 
GAO relies on the work of the IGs and other auditors to meet the 
requirements of the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act for audited 
financial statements. Through successful working relationships between 
GAO and the IGs, agencies have consistently met the CFO requirements. 
Also, through the IG's active participation in the Comptroller 
General's Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards, the 
Domestic Working Group, and the activities of the Intergovernmental 
Audit Forums, GAO and the IGs share information, identify emerging 
issues, and achieve broad coordination. Furthermore, at agencies where 
GAO has a substantial ongoing audit presence, as a professional 
courtesy, GAO meets periodically with representatives of the agency's 
Office of Inspector General to (1) coordinate work between GAO and the 
Office of Inspector General, (2) achieve efficiencies and minimize 
duplication, and (3) identify specific issues that might benefit from a 
collaborative effort between GAO and the Office of Inspector General.

Source of GAO Work:

GAO undertakes work through three primary means: (1) congressional 
mandates, (2) congressional requests, and (3) the Comptroller General's 
authority. Information about the priorities that govern GAO's work for 
the Congress and GAO's operating plan can be found in GAO's 
Congressional Protocols in the section entitled Priorities for 
Undertaking Work and GAO's Strategic Plan, both of which are posted on 
GAO's Web site at [Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov].

GAO's Approach:

To effectively support the Congress, GAO must be professional, 
objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, and nonideological, in all its 
work. GAO is committed to meeting the highest level of professional 
standards while conducting audits, evaluations, and investigations 
reflective of its core values of accountability, integrity, and 
reliability. GAO performs its audit and analytical work in accordance 
with generally accepted government auditing standards (GAGAS or the 
"Yellow Book" standards, which can be found at www.gao.gov). GAO 
conducts its investigations--which involve allegations of serious 
wrongdoing that may involve potential violations of criminal law--and 
its testing of the security of agencies' systems, controls, and 
property in accordance with standards established by the President's 
Council on Integrity and Efficiency as adapted for GAO's work.

Statutory Responsibilities:

The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, authorized GAO to "investigate 
all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and expenditure of 
public funds." To assist GAO in performing its work, the Congress 
provided GAO broad rights of access to a wide range of agency 
information. Specifically, the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 
directs each agency to give GAO information the Comptroller General 
requires about the duties, powers, activities, organizations, and 
financial transactions of the agency.

Since World War II, the Congress has expanded the original charter and 
clarified how GAO work is initiated. Specifically:

* The Government Corporation Control Act of 1945 provides GAO with the 
authority to audit the financial transactions of government 
corporations.

* The Budget and Accounting Procedures Act of 1950 assigns GAO the 
responsibility for establishing accounting standards for the federal 
government and for carrying out audits of internal controls and 
financial management.

* The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 authorizes GAO "to 
evaluate the results of a program or activity the Government carries 
out under existing law" when ordered by either house of Congress, when 
requested by a committee of jurisdiction, or on the initiative of the 
Comptroller General. In addition, the Congressional Budget and 
Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes GAO to conduct program 
evaluations and analyses of a broad range of federal activities.

* The Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990 and the Government 
Management Reform Act of 1994 authorize GAO to audit agencies' 
financial statements and annually audit the consolidated financial 
statements of the United States.

* Numerous other laws complement GAO's basic audit and evaluation 
authorities, including the Inspector General Act of 1978, providing for 
GAO-established standards for the audit of federal programs and 
activities, and the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984, providing 
for GAO's review of protested federal contracting actions.

Communication between GAO and Agencies:

GAO is committed to maintaining constructive and continuing 
communication with agencies and major components within agencies. These 
communications will take several forms, including, as facts and 
circumstances warrant, meetings between GAO's Comptroller General or 
Chief Operating Officer and the heads of agencies or their designees at 
the presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (PAS) level to 
discuss areas of mutual interest and concern.

Other forms of communication include periodic meetings with an agency's 
leadership and executives and specific communications with an agency 
pertaining to planned and ongoing work. Specifically:

* At least annually, at agencies where GAO has a substantial ongoing 
audit presence, GAO senior executives and leaders responsible for 
managing and coordinating GAO's work, generally known as GAO's agency 
executive liaisons, will meet with agency-designated senior executives, 
such as an Assistant Secretary for Administration, an Associate 
Administrator for Management Systems, or an Assistant Secretary for a 
particular program. These executive-level meetings will help build an 
understanding of key and emerging issues; provide an opportunity to 
discuss GAO's short-and long-term work plans, as well as the general 
working relationship between GAO and the agency, including the agency's 
use of GAO's work; and facilitate the discussion of issues associated 
with particular work. For the agencies that designate a central GAO 
liaison, once an executive-level meeting has been scheduled, as a 
professional courtesy, GAO will notify the liaison that the meeting has 
been scheduled.

* When GAO initiates work at an agency, the agency can expect GAO to 
designate a primary point of contact who will be available throughout 
the engagement to respond to the agency's requests for information on 
the status of work and to any concerns about the work's scope or 
approach. In turn, GAO expects the agency to designate a point of 
contact who is knowledgeable about the agency's relevant programs and 
organization and is able to facilitate GAO's ability to complete its 
work in a timely manner. Furthermore, the agency-designated central 
liaison or point of contact should be able to, among other things, set 
up necessary meetings (such as entrance, exit, and agency comment 
meetings), identify and ensure that GAO meets with the appropriate 
agency representatives, help resolve problems, and coordinate agency 
comments on any draft report that may result from the work.

In response to inquiries from agencies not involved in a particular 
ongoing review--except for classified work and investigations--GAO will 
provide information on the source of the request, the project's 
objectives, scope, and methodology; and the expected completion date, 
when known. For congressionally requested work, further information may 
be shared after consultation with the congressional requester(s).

Notification of GAO Work:

Before beginning any new engagement that requires GAO to seek 
information, data, or both, from an agency, GAO generally notifies the 
agency of the work to be undertaken. When GAO's work cuts across the 
federal government and is conducted at more than one agency (e.g., 
performance management and budgeting reviews), GAO will generally send 
a notification letter to the applicable central agency, such as the 
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB), and notify the individual agencies of such work by 
telephone or e-mail message. When GAO notifies an agency of work by 
telephone or e-mail message, it will, if requested, subsequently 
provide a notification letter in instances when the work is on an issue 
with widespread national implication or is resource intensive. However, 
when GAO conducts an investigation it does not notify the agency of the 
work because to do so might jeopardize the investigation. GAO's 
modified protocols for investigations are described in detail in the 
Office of Special Investigations section of this document.

To the extent practical, the notice to an agency will identify the:

* engagement subject;

* engagement's unique identification number (i.e., engagement code);

* source of the work;

* objectives or key questions of the work;

* agency(ies) and, when possible, anticipated location(s) to be 
contacted;

* estimated start date for the work;

* time frame for holding an entrance conference between GAO and the 
agency;

* GAO team performing the engagement; and:

* GAO points of contact (name, telephone number, fax number, and e-mail 
address).

If the objectives of the work to be performed change significantly or 
if the location of the work needs to be modified, GAO will notify the 
agency-designated central liaison or primary point of contact of these 
changes.

GAO will generally provide written notification to the agencies 
involved in the work electronically in an agreed-upon format that 
protects the files from alteration. GAO will provide the notification 
to the agency-designated liaison or agency-designated point of contact. 
If an agency has not designated a central liaison, GAO will provide the 
notification to the responsible agency management official. In some 
instances, GAO may ask an agency liaison to distribute the notification 
to the agency's respective major components. In addition, if 
applicable, the notification letter will be accompanied or followed by 
a notice of visit form that includes the appropriate security clearance 
information.

For certain types of work to be performed at an agency, GAO may 
initially provide only telephone or e-mail message notification. Such 
work includes (1) congressional requests for quickly developed 
testimony based on new work, (2) work that is to be completed within a 
short time frame, (3) requests for information on the implementation 
status of recommendations made in issued reports, and (4) descriptive 
information being gathered from or about agencies as part of a 
governmentwide review. GAO's recommendation follow-up process is 
discussed in detail in the Follow-up on GAO Recommendations section of 
this document. As previously stated, when GAO notifies an agency of 
work by telephone or e-mail message, it will, if requested, 
subsequently provide a notification letter when the work is on an issue 
that has widespread national implications or is resource-intensive.

Entrance Conference:

An entrance conference is a meeting that GAO holds with agency 
officials at the start of an engagement. GAO expects that an agency 
will arrange for its personnel to be available for an entrance 
conference no later than 14 calendar days after receiving a request for 
a meeting. At the entrance conference, GAO will discuss the (1) source 
of the work; (2) roles and responsibilities of the GAO staff; (3) 
information needs (e.g., data and access to agency officials); (4) key 
objectives (research questions); (5) sites where GAO expects to conduct 
its work, when known; and (6) need for any precautions to protect the 
data and information, such as special clearances. To the extent 
possible, GAO will also provide the agency with an estimate of how long 
the work will take. During the entrance conference, GAO will also ask 
agency officials to designate a key contact to assist, as applicable, 
in obtaining temporary office space in agencies where GAO does not 
already have office space as well as fax and telephone equipment needed 
for GAO to complete its work at the agency. In addition, GAO staff will 
request that agency officials identify knowledgeable agency personnel 
and discuss the kinds of information that would be useful to carry out 
the work's objectives, such as available studies or electronic files.

The attendance of key agency officials--those responsible for work 
related to GAO's key objectives--at the entrance conference enhances 
the opportunity for a substantive exchange of information. If the 
review includes work at separate agency field locations, or if 
requested by the agency, GAO will consider holding additional entrance 
conferences when work is begun at these field locations.

In certain cases, GAO's work involves crosscutting governmentwide 
reviews at more than one agency, including reviews on such issues as 
performance management and budgeting. For example, GAO's work on how 
well agencies are incorporating a results orientation into their budget 
decisions and resource allocation process involves all major agencies. 
For such a governmentwide review, an entrance conference is generally 
held with applicable central agencies, such as OMB or OPM. If 
requested, GAO will consider either including all of the agencies under 
the review at a single entrance conference or holding a separate 
entrance conference with specific agencies.

Generally, GAO will not hold an entrance conference in those instances 
when it is (1) responding to congressional requests for testimony based 
on ongoing or recently completed work, (2) performing work that is to 
be completed within a short time frame and is closely related to 
ongoing work, (3) updating the implementation status of recommendations 
made in issued reports, or (4) collecting descriptive information from 
or about agencies as part of a governmentwide review.

Closeout Meeting at Field Locations:

After conducting work at a field location, to the extent appropriate, 
GAO staff will hold a closeout meeting with agency officials who are 
responsible for the operations of the field location and have oversight 
for issues related to the work's objectives. The purpose of the 
closeout meeting is to ensure that GAO staff have been provided with a 
full understanding of the information they have gathered at a field 
location and its relevance to the engagement's objectives. In deciding 
on whether or not a closeout meeting will be held, GAO will consider 
the preferences of the agency officials and whether the work has 
involved interviews with numerous people, over a significant period of 
time, at that particular location.

At the closeout meeting, GAO staff may discuss the implications of the 
information gathered at that field location. Such discussions may 
identify additional relevant information and thus lead to further data 
gathering at the location. In addition, as appropriate, the closeout 
meeting may cover the extent to which data and documents were made 
available and access to relevant field officials was provided. 
Generally, work undertaken at individual field locations provides only 
location-specific information that needs to be evaluated in the context 
of findings from other locations. Therefore, GAO's preliminary 
conclusions or recommendations are not discussed at the closeout 
meeting.

Exit Conference with Agency:

GAO holds an exit conference (in person or by telephone) with an agency 
after completing its data collection and analysis. The purpose of the 
exit conference is to confirm that the critical facts and key 
information used to formulate GAO's analyses and findings are current, 
correct, and complete. GAO officials responsible for the completion of 
the engagement will participate in the meeting. Agency officials who 
have oversight of the issues related to the engagement's objectives are 
also expected to attend the meeting. Written material, if provided, 
will be used to confirm that the critical facts and key information 
used to formulate GAO's analyses and findings are current, correct, and 
complete. Observations, preliminary conclusions, and potential 
recommendations that flow from the factual information collected may be 
discussed but are not provided in writing.

GAO generally holds an exit conference at all affected agencies when 
its reviews are crosscutting and require substantive work to be 
conducted at more than one agency. GAO coordinates the scheduling of 
the exit conference with the agency-designated liaison or agency-
designated point of contact. If an agency has not designated a central 
liaison, GAO coordinates with the responsible agency management 
official.

Agency Comments:

As required by generally accepted government auditing standards, GAO 
provides responsible parties with an opportunity to review and comment 
on a draft of a report before it is issued. Responsible parties include 
agency officials and other directly affected parties that have 
responsibilities for the programs under review. The amount of time 
available for the agency to comment is determined on a facts-and-
circumstances basis. However, GAO does not seek comments from an agency 
or affected party when (1) disclosure of an investigation's results 
could pose risks to individuals and their confidentiality, (2) 
premature disclosure of information could compromise the results of the 
work, or (3) a product largely reflects prior GAO work. For example, a 
testimony statement that is largely based on issued GAO work is not 
provided for comment. However, GAO does obtain the views of agency 
officials for those statements that are based on new or ongoing work. 
As previously noted, GAO follows modified protocols for testimonies, 
which are described separately in the section of this document entitled 
Testimony. Furthermore, GAO follows modified protocols for work 
undertaken by its criminal investigators. These modified protocols are 
described in the section of this document entitled Office of Special 
Investigations.

GAO, when determining the amount of time available for comment, will 
consider (1) the timing needs of the requester, (2) the extent to which 
substantive discussions have already been held between GAO and the 
agency, (3) the length of time spent on the engagement, and (4) the 
amount of resources GAO and the agency have expended to answer the 
engagement's objectives. Using these criteria, GAO will generally give 
an agency from 7 to 30 calendar days to comment on a draft report 
unless otherwise required by law. See 31 U.S.C. 718(a) for a list of 
financial institutions that by law must receive 30 days for comment. 
The exact time will vary depending on the nature of the engagement and 
the needs of the Congress. In rare cases, the Comptroller General may 
grant an extension beyond 30 calendar days if the agency shows that an 
extension is necessary and will likely result in a more accurate 
report. See 31 U.S.C. 718(b).

GAO reserves the right to issue the report to the congressional 
requester(s) if the comments are not received within the time allotted. 
In such cases, the reason for not including the agency comments will be 
stated in the report.

GAO prefers that agencies provide written comments, and GAO requests 
that the written comments be provided electronically. However, GAO will 
accept comments provided in hard copy, orally, or in an unsigned e-mail 
message. GAO requests that agencies provide their written comments 
electronically in order to comply with Section 508 of the 
Rehabilitation Act. This act requires that persons with disabilities 
have access to and use of information and data that are comparable to 
the access and use provided to persons without disabilities. See 29 
U.S.C. 794d. GAO's goal is to provide its products in a format that is 
compatible with assistive technologies such as text-to-sound screen 
reader software. Submitting an electronic file ensures that an agency's 
comments are accurately reproduced in GAO's accessible product format. 
Contact Knowledge Services at (202) 512-3691, for specific information 
about how to electronically transmit agency comments to GAO. Comments 
on reports containing classified or sensitive information should be 
transmitted in the manner agreed to by GAO and the agency.

GAO expects an agency to provide (1) a single position on the extent of 
their agreement or disagreement with key GAO findings, and on any 
conclusions, and recommendations--including a resolution of disparate 
agency views if necessary--and (2) the rationale for any disagreement. 
When an agency's designated senior official provides oral comments, GAO 
will summarize these comments and provide a copy of the summary to the 
official to verify that the comments are accurately stated before 
finalizing the report. The GAO senior executive official responsible 
for the completion of the engagement, along with the staff that 
performed the work, will participate in this meeting. In addition, for 
governmentwide work, GAO will generally request that comments be 
provided by the agency(ies) with whom the entrance conference was held.

Consistent with GAO's Congressional Protocols, the congressional 
requester(s) will be notified before a draft report is provided to an 
agency for comment and will be offered an opportunity to receive a copy 
of the draft for informational purposes when the draft report is 
provided to the agency for comment. Furthermore, under 31 U.S.C. 
718(b)(2), the Senate Governmental Affairs and House Government Reform 
committees may request copies of any draft report generated under GAO's 
legal authority to undertake work on its own initiative when the draft 
report is sent to the agency for comment. GAO will advise these 
committees when such a draft is sent to the agency for comment.

Procedures for Soliciting Agency Comments:

GAO does not have classification authority for its reports. Therefore, 
for those reports that contain national security or sensitive 
information, GAO will request that the agency perform a review for this 
type of information and communicate the review's results in writing to 
GAO. GAO will advise the congressional requester(s) when the agency has 
completed its classification review. Both the agency's classification 
review and comments on the draft report must be completed within the 
time frame identified in GAO's letter soliciting comments on the draft 
report.

GAO transmits most draft reports for comment to agencies electronically 
in an agreed-upon format that protects the files from alteration. GAO 
will provide the draft report to the agency-designated liaison or 
agency-designated point of contact. If an agency has not designated a 
central liaison, GAO will provide the notification to the responsible 
agency management official. Reports containing classified or sensitive 
information are transmitted through other means. A transmittal letter 
accompanies each draft report to inform recipients of GAO's request for 
written or oral comments and the time frame within which the comments 
are due. The transmittal letter also states that the draft report is 
not final; is therefore subject to change; and must be safeguarded to 
prevent its transmittal to unauthorized personnel, alteration, or 
premature release.

Draft reports are at risk of being prematurely released once they leave 
GAO's control. In some limited circumstances, when there is concern 
that a draft report may be prematurely released, GAO will take extra 
precautions in obtaining agency comments. For example, GAO may decide 
not to transmit a draft report electronically and instead provide 
limited printed copies of the draft to the agency. In addition, GAO may 
determine that the particular sensitivity of a draft report's 
information or recommendations requires restrictive comment 
procedures. In these instances, GAO may request that agency officials 
review the draft report in the presence of GAO staff and that these 
officials provide the agency's consolidated comments at that time. In 
such cases, the draft report will be available for review only at a 
meeting with GAO staff. Although agency officials may take notes as 
they review the draft, at the conclusion of the meeting, all copies of 
the draft report will be returned to GAO.

Disposition of Agency Comments:

After receiving agency comments, GAO considers their substance, revises 
the draft report as appropriate, and indicates in the issued report 
whether the agency agreed or disagreed with GAO's findings, 
conclusions, and recommendations. If the agency disagrees with GAO's 
findings, conclusions, and recommendations, GAO will accept further 
explanations from agency officials in support of the agency's position. 
However, any available documented evidence supporting this explanation 
must be provided simultaneously to allow for verification if it 
materially affects the content of the report. When the agency disagrees 
with a finding, conclusion, or recommendation, GAO identifies the 
disagreement and states its own position in the issued report. An 
agency's electronic or hard-copy written comments are typically 
reproduced in an appendix to the issued report. An unsigned e-mail 
message describing an agency's comments will not be printed in the 
issued report. However, GAO identifies the disposition of this e-mail 
message in the Agency Comments section of the report, just as it does 
for oral comments.

Testimony:

Congressional committee or subcommittee Chairs frequently request that 
GAO prepare testimony statements and that GAO witnesses appear at 
hearings. GAO is required to follow the rules of the Senate and the 
House and relevant committees or subcommittees in connection with any 
such testimonies. Accordingly, GAO's Agency Protocols are modified for 
these requirements as described in this section. For example, because 
most hearing appearances are requested and statements are delivered 
within short time frames or are based on work that is new and quickly 
developed, ongoing, or already completed, GAO generally does not hold 
an entrance conference with agency officials. When agency officials 
need to be contacted for information that was not previously obtained 
or was not part of a previous review, GAO will notify the agency-
designated central liaison, generally by telephone or e-mail message. 
If the agency has not designated a liaison, GAO will provide 
notification to the responsible agency management official.

For testimony based on new or ongoing work, regardless of whether it is 
a preliminary or a final product, GAO will, consistent with 
professional auditing standards, obtain the views of agency officials 
on the information collected before the testimony statement is 
completed to (1) validate the accuracy of the data gathered and (2) 
discuss the implications that flow from the data gathered. The agency's 
views are generally obtained through a meeting with the official 
designated to speak for the agency or through other means, such as a 
telephone conference call. The views of the agency official will be 
considered in the development of the testimony statement. If the agency 
is unable to schedule a meeting to provide its views within the time 
frame specified by GAO, the testimony statement will reflect that GAO 
was unable to obtain the agency's views. Generally, when the testimony 
statement is based on recently reported work, GAO will not seek agency 
views. Additionally, when GAO testifies on investigations it conducts, 
it does not obtain testimony statement views because such actions could 
jeopardize future proceedings. GAO's modified protocols related to 
investigations are explained in greater detail in the separate section 
of this document entitled Office of Special Investigations. GAO will 
distribute its written testimony statement in accordance with the rules 
of the Senate or House, including the applicable committees' rules.

Disposition of Work:

Consistent with generally accepted government auditing standards, GAO 
prefers using published products to communicate the final results of 
its work because they (1) communicate the results consistently to all 
interested parties, (2) make the results available to the public, (3) 
build a readily available subject-matter record for future use, and (4) 
facilitate follow-up to determine whether appropriate corrective 
measures have been taken when needed. However, an oral briefing may be 
used, for example, when GAO (1) determines that further work is not 
warranted; (2) provides information that is readily available to the 
public, such as that in Inspector General reports; or (3) develops a 
summary of previously issued GAO products that does not contain any new 
findings, conclusions, or recommendations. In these instances, GAO will 
notify the agency-designated central liaison or point of contact that 
the engagement has been terminated without a published product.

GAO will provide electronic copies of reports to agencies upon issuance 
or release. GAO teams responsible for the engagement will provide to 
the agency contact via e-mail the final electronic version of the 
report and the transmittal letter. However, GAO will provide the 
agencies with hard copies of the report, if requested. In addition to 
providing copies of the report to the agencies involved, GAO's goal is 
to post products on its Web site www.gao.gov within 24 hours of 
release. All GAO reports have a targeted issuance date. However, the 
congressional requester(s) may ask GAO to restrict the release of a 
report for up to 30 calendar days beyond the targeted issuance date. 
GAO reserves the right to release any report that is under restriction, 
but issued to the requester, if the report's contents are made public 
prior to the expiration of the restriction date. GAO reports that 
contain classified or sensitive data are not posted on the Web site.

Classified reports are distributed only to those with the appropriate 
security clearances and a need to know. Reports that contain sensitive 
information are distributed only to recipients who are authorized by 
statute or regulation to receive the reports, have a need to know, or 
both.

Follow-up on GAO Recommendations:

GAO's recommendations are intended to improve the economy, efficiency, 
and effectiveness of an agency's operations and to improve the 
accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the 
American people. Consequently, GAO monitors agencies' progress in 
implementing these recommendations. To accomplish this monitoring, GAO 
maintains a database of open recommendations. As new products with 
recommendations are released, their recommendations are incorporated 
into the database. This database serves both GAO and the agencies by 
helping them meet their record maintenance and monitoring 
responsibilities.

GAO's goal is to remove all closed recommendations from the database on 
an ongoing basis. However, close to the end of each fiscal year, 
special attention is directed to this effort. GAO removes a 
recommendation from its database after determining that (1) the agency 
has implemented the recommendation or has taken action that in 
substance meets the intent of the recommendation or (2) circumstances 
have changed and the recommendation is no longer relevant. The open 
recommendations database is available to the public on GAO's Web site 
at www.gao.gov. Specific recommendations can be identified because the 
database is searchable by agency, congressional committee, and key 
words. Congressional appropriations, authorization, and oversight 
committees can use the database to prepare for hearings and budget 
deliberations.

Agencies also have a responsibility to monitor and maintain accurate 
records on the status of recommendations. These requirements are 
detailed in two OMB Circulars. OMB Circular A-50 provides the policies 
and procedures for use by executive agencies when considering reports 
issued by GAO and Inspectors General, other executive branch audit 
organizations, and nonfederal auditors where follow-up is necessary; 
and OMB Circular A-123 addresses internal management control systems. 
Among the requirements included are that the agency (1) appoint a top-
level audit follow-up official, (2) maintain accurate records on the 
status of recommendations, and (3) assign a high priority to following 
up on audit recommendations.

Additionally, when GAO issues a report containing recommendations to 
the head of an agency, 31 U.S.C. 720 requires that the agency head 
submit a written statement of the actions taken by the agency on GAO's 
recommendations to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and the 
House Committee on Government Reform not later than 60 days after the 
date of the report. The agency's statement of action shall also be 
submitted to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the 
first request for appropriations that is submitted more than 60 days 
after the date of the report. If the congressional requester has asked 
that the distribution of the report be restricted, as provided by GAO's 
Congressional Protocols, the 60-day period begins on the date the 
report is released.

Because agency personnel serve as the primary source of information on 
the status of recommendations, GAO requests that the agency also 
provide it with a copy of the agency's statement of action to serve as 
preliminary information on the status of open recommendations. GAO will 
follow up by discussing the status of recommendations with cognizant 
agency officials; obtaining copies of agency documents supporting the 
recommendations' implementation; and performing sufficient work to 
verify that the recommended actions are being taken and, to the extent 
possible, that the desired results are being achieved.

Office of Special Investigations:

The Office of Special Investigations (OSI) is a specialized unit within 
GAO that is staffed by criminal investigators. OSI's mission is to 
improve the performance and ensure the accountability of government by 
conducting oversight investigations concerning allegations of serious 
wrongdoing that may involve potential violations of criminal law. When 
OSI investigations disclose potential violations of law, the 
information is referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency, such 
as the Office of Inspector General or the Department of Justice. OSI 
investigations typically focus on allegations of corruption, fraud, 
misconduct, contract and procurement improprieties, conflicts of 
interest, and ethics violations in federal programs or activities.

OSI also engages in proactive operations that test the security of 
agencies' systems, controls, and property. These operations are 
coordinated with appropriate authorities, such as the Department of 
Justice. OSI will inform the agency of any serious security issues 
discovered during these operations shortly after the operations have 
been completed and before any of the related findings are made public. 
In addition, OSI's work involves law enforcement-related issues or 
programs.

OSI also utilizes GAO's FraudNET, an automated system that affords the 
public an opportunity to report allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and 
mismanagement of federal funds. Typically, OSI refers this information 
to the appropriate agency's Office of Inspector General or another law 
enforcement agency for action. GAO expects to receive a report from the 
agency on the results of the action.

It is GAO's policy to conduct investigations according to standards 
established by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency 
(PCIE) as adapted for GAO's work. PCIE standards place upon GAO and its 
investigators the responsibility to ensure that (1) investigations are 
conducted by personnel who collectively possess the required knowledge, 
skills, and abilities to perform the investigations; (2) judgments made 
in collecting and analyzing evidence and communicating results are 
impartial; and (3) due professional care (e.g., thoroughness, 
appropriate use of investigative techniques, impartiality, 
objectivity, protection of individual rights, and timeliness) is 
exercised. OSI seeks evidence of wrongdoing either in conjunction with 
or independently of audits and evaluations. OSI focuses on physical, 
testimonial, documentary, and analytical evidence that is relevant, 
material, and admissible in criminal and civil proceedings. To ensure 
admissibility in subsequent judicial proceedings, OSI performs its work 
in accordance with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution, statutes, 
and court decisions applicable to obtaining evidence in criminal and 
civil cases.

Like GAO's other units, OSI expects that an agency will promptly comply 
with requests for access to its records and to agency personnel 
directly involved with the matter under investigation. Furthermore, 
there should be no interference with an investigator's ability to 
obtain relevant information concerning an investigative matter. When 
OSI becomes aware of an ongoing executive branch investigation 
pertaining to a matter OSI is currently investigating, OSI will 
coordinate its work with the law enforcement agency involved.

Investigations by their very nature do not support the use of entrance 
or exit conferences. Nor do the standards of the President's Council on 
Integrity and Efficiency require these conferences. Revealing 
information at the start of an investigation may lead to the 
destruction or concealment of evidence, thus jeopardizing the 
investigation. However, in investigations that will result in a public 
report or testimony, OSI will brief agency officials after the 
investigation has been completed and before the information is made 
public. On occasion, OSI works jointly with other GAO units or 
independently on compliance or evaluation issues. In those cases, the 
provisions of GAO's standard agency protocols are applicable.

Access to Agency Information:

The Congress relies on GAO to examine virtually every federal program, 
activity, and policy, as well as institutions that rely on federal 
funds. Generally accepted government auditing standards make GAO 
analysts and financial auditors responsible for planning, conducting, 
and reporting their work in a timely manner without internal or 
external impairments to the work. These standards require that analysts 
and financial auditors promptly obtain sufficient, competent, and 
relevant evidence to afford a reasonable basis for any related findings 
and conclusions. Therefore, prompt access to all records and other 
information associated with these activities is needed for the 
effective and efficient performance of GAO's work. While for the most 
part, agencies have provided GAO with requested information within 
agreed-upon time frames, the following sections describe the steps GAO 
is authorized to follow if it believes it is experiencing unreasonable 
delays in obtaining the requested access.

The Congress has given GAO broad statutory rights of access to a wide 
range of federal agency documents. The basic access authority is 
established in 31 U.S.C. 716(a), which requires each agency to give 
GAO "information the Comptroller General requires about the duties, 
powers, activities, organization, and financial transactions of the 
agency." GAO is also authorized to inspect an agency's records to 
secure the required information. This authority includes access to 
inter-and intra-agency memorandums and electronic files as well as 
sensitive information, including business-confidential or proprietary 
data. While the Freedom of Information Act, the Trade Secrets Act, and 
other statutes may generally protect certain categories of information 
from disclosure by an agency to the public, this protection does not 
justify withholding the information from GAO. GAO has a statutory right 
to access predecisional and deliberative documents unless the President 
or the Director of OMB certifies that certain standards are met under 
31 U.S.C. 716(d)(1)(C), as added by the General Accounting Office Act 
of 1980. (For further information see Senate Report No. 96-570, Feb. 8, 
1980, pp. 6-8.) Aside from the general access statute, various forms of 
special legislation govern GAO's access to certain types of agency 
records and information, such as tax, social security, financial 
institution, and employee benefit plan records and information. In 
addition, under certain circumstances, GAO has the authority to access 
information from other entities receiving federal funds, such as the 
District of Columbia, state and local governments, and private sector 
contractors.

Handling and Disclosing Information:

GAO secures all information obtained during the course of its work. 
When GAO needs access to classified, proprietary, or otherwise 
sensitive information, it will comply with all applicable statutory 
requirements, including obtaining the necessary security and other 
clearances for assigned GAO staff. Under 31 U.S.C. 716(e), GAO is 
obligated to give the information the same level of confidentiality and 
protection required of the agency. Because of its statutory access 
authority, GAO generally does not sign a nondisclosure or other 
agreement as a condition of gaining access to sensitive or proprietary 
data to which it is entitled.

While GAO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, its 
disclosure policy follows the spirit of the act consistent with GAO's 
duties and responsibilities to the Congress. It is GAO's policy not to 
provide records to the public that originated in another agency or a 
nonfederal organization. Instead, GAO refers those who request such 
records to the originating organization. Further information on the 
public availability of the documents and data that form GAO's audit 
documentation can be found in 4 C.F.R. part 81.

GAO will grant Members of Congress, upon their written request, access 
to its audit documentation at GAO offices or will provide copies of 
selected audit documentation after a product has been made publicly 
available. After a product has been issued to a requester but is not 
yet publicly available, GAO may grant access to specific, selected 
audit documentation after receiving a written request from the 
requesting Member(s). In this situation, copies of the audit 
documentation will not be provided until the report has been made 
publicly available. This access is subject to legal and privacy 
considerations, such as those concerning taxpayer return information 
and protected banking information.

GAO's work involves different collection approaches to meet the 
evidence requirements of the generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Such evidence falls into four categories:

* physical evidence (e.g., the results of direct inspection or 
observation);

* documentary evidence (e.g., information created by and for an agency, 
such as letters, memorandums, contracts, management and accounting 
records, and other documents in various formats, including electronic 
databases);

* testimonial evidence (e.g., the results of face-to-face, telephone, 
or written inquiries, interviews, and questionnaires); and:

* analytical evidence (developed by or for GAO through computations, 
data comparisons, and other analyses).

GAO expects that an agency will promptly comply with its requests for 
access to the agency's records so that it can obtain all categories of 
needed evidence. Such access generally includes the ability to make and 
retain copies of the evidence. GAO also expects that it will receive 
full and timely access to agency officials who have stewardship over 
the requested records; to agency employees who are responsible for the 
programs, issues, events, operations, and other factors covered by such 
records; and contractor personnel supporting such programs, issues, 
events, and operations. In addition, GAO expects that it will have 
access to the agency's facilities and other relevant locations. GAO 
will endeavor to conduct work related to requests for information with 
minimal interruption to the agency's operations.

Resolving Disputes Over Access:

Timely access to information is in the best interests of both GAO and 
the agencies. GAO needs to efficiently use the time available to 
complete its work to minimize the impact on the agency being reviewed 
and to meet the time frames of the congressional requester(s). 
Therefore, GAO expects that an agency's leadership and internal 
procedures will recognize the importance of and support prompt 
responses to GAO's requests for information. For the most part, 
agencies have provided GAO with requested information within agreed-
upon time frames. However, if GAO believes it is experiencing 
unreasonable delays in obtaining requested access, GAO officials will 
contact the agency's leadership for resolution and notify the 
congressional requester(s) of the work affected, as appropriate. 
Consistent with GAO's reporting standards, when there is difficulty in 
obtaining timely access to information that adversely affects either 
the completion of an engagement, its scope, or both, GAO's product will 
reflect that GAO had this difficulty. In addition, unreasonable delays 
in gaining access to an agency's information can reduce the time 
available for the agency to provide its views or comments on GAO's 
work.

To ensure GAO's access to information maintained by federal agencies, 
the Congress provided in 31 U.S.C. 716(b) for enforcement actions to 
compel the production of a record. First, the Comptroller General sends 
a written request to the agency head for the record that has not been 
made available to GAO within a reasonable time after an initial 
request. The agency head then has 20 calendar days to respond, either 
by providing the record for inspection or by explaining why it is being 
withheld. If the agency head does not provide the record, the 
Comptroller General may file a report describing the access issues with 
the President, the Director of OMB, the Attorney General, the agency 
head, and the Congress. If the agency head does not provide the record 
within 20 calendar days of the report's filing, the statute authorizes 
the Comptroller General to bring a civil action in federal district 
court to enforce GAO's access rights. If the Comptroller General is 
successful in this action, the court will issue an order directing the 
agency head to produce the record.

Extremely limited exceptions to the authority are established in 31 
U.S.C. 716(b) for a civil enforcement action to compel access to a 
record. The most notable exception is if the President or the Director 
of OMB certifies that (1) the record could be withheld under either of 
two Freedom of Information Act exemptions in 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5) 
(deliberative process) and (b)(7) (law enforcement records) and (2) 
disclosure could reasonably be expected to impair substantially the 
operations of the government--a requirement that, as the legislative 
history of Section 716 makes clear, presents a very high standard for 
an agency to meet. As previously noted, the fact that materials may be 
exempt from public disclosure does not justify withholding them from 
GAO. Moreover, GAO's statutory right of access to an agency's records 
is not diminished by the certification provisions of the legislation. 
Rather, the certification simply allows the President or the Director 
of OMB to preclude the Comptroller General from seeking a judicial 
remedy in certain limited situations. In the event there is a 
certification, generally accepted government auditing standards 
require that the limitations to GAO's access to records be identified 
in the product and that the audit findings be adjusted accordingly.

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