GAO: Working for Good Government Since 1921

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Effective July 7, 2004, the GAO's legal name became the Government Accountability Office. The change, which better reflects the modern professional services organization GAO has become, is a provision of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004, Pub. L. 108-271, 118 Stat. 811 (2004). This article was published in 2001 to mark GAO's 80th anniversary. It refers to the agency by its original name, the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Chapter 5, Joseph Campbell: Economy and Efficiency Audits, 1954-1965

In 1954, Joseph Campbell succeeded Warren as Comptroller General. The first accountant to head GAO, Campbell further developed the concept of comprehensive auditing and expanded the recruiting program begun by Warren. He worked to hire more accountants and to raise the professional level of GAO's staff. The effort paid off, as by 1965 over half the agency's employees were college graduates.

Photo - New CPAs at GAO, 1956

New Certified Public Accountants at GAO, 1956

At Campbell's direction, GAO undertook an extensive internal training program for its employees. GAO hired Leo Herbert, a Certified Public Accountant and former professor of accounting, to serve as director of staff management. Responding to a mandate that he professionalize GAO's staff, Dr. Herbert directed training activities at the agency between 1956 and 1974. He taught newly hired accountants a conceptual framework of "planning, doing, and reviewing," which he linked to "criteria, cause, and effect."

Photo - Dr. Leo Herbert teaching a class at GAODr. Leo Herbert directed training at GAO from 1956 to 1974.

GAO's auditors learned that they first needed to understand the criteria to be used in assessing the operation of a particular federal program. Dr. Herbert explained that by analyzing the condition of a program at a given time and comparing it with the criteria, an auditor could determine how the program was operating and how it should be operating.  He should measure condition--"what is"--against acceptable criteria--"what should be." By using accepted audit techniques, the auditor could identify the causes and the effects of deficiencies in program operations.

Campbell stressed the appearance of independence by GAO's auditors, going so far as to discourage his employees from joining external professional organizations (such as the Federal Government Accountants Association) or socializing too much with the employees of other government agencies. A former GAO official recounted how he and some of his colleagues joined an after-hours bowling team at the audit site where they were working. Campbell heard of it and called him in. "He asked me whether I wanted a career as a bowler or an accountant. I told him I wanted to be an accountant. He said, 'Okay, then get your crew out of that bowling league,' which we immediately did." The Comptroller General had little interest in the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program and GAO's work with Treasury and the BOB consequently fell into a decline during Campbell's tenure.

Photo - GAO recruiting booklet, ca. 1965

A page from a GAO recruiting booklet issued late in Joseph Campbell's tenure.

Campbell did, however, pay a great deal of attention to the operations of GAO's regional offices. He met annually with the Regional Managers and established a Field Operations Division to coordinate their activities. In 1956, he opened a Far East office. Campbell believed it was confusing to have several GAO divisions audit the same agency. He wanted to increase comprehensive auditing, put more resources into defense auditing, and clarify distinctions between auditing and staff work. Campbell reorganized GAO between 1955 and 1956, creating Civil, Defense, and International Divisions. He established an Accounting and Auditing Policy Staff (AAPS), which formulated accounting, auditing, and investigative policies within GAO. AAPS took over some of the guidance functions previously carried out by the Accounting Systems Division and Division of Audits.  In addition to issuing manuals for internal use, the new policy office also had responsibility for developing accounting principles and standards for the guidance of federal agencies.

Photo - Joseph Campbell with chartJoseph Campbell, Comptroller General, 1954-1965

Under Campbell, GAO's work reflected changing national needs.  The Office looked at issues such as the financial management of foreign and military assistance programs, the procurement and use of automated data processing equipment, and projects at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In emphasizing economy and efficiency audits, Campbell focused heavily on defense contracts.  As the U.S. committed military forces to fight in South Vietnam in the 1960s, GAO kept a close eye on defense expenditures. In 1963, a newspaper article noted, "The current joke around Washington is that Defense Secretary Robert McNamara fears Joe Campbell more than he does [Soviet Premier] Nikita Khrushchev."

GAO's bluntly worded reports caught the attention of the Department of Defense, its contractors-and Congress. In 1965, Congressman Chet Holifield, chairman of the Military Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, held extensive hearings on GAO's contract auditing.  In March 1966, the subcommittee issued a report that examined the style and content of GAO's reports; the handling of confidential business data; the naming of officials involved in matters under review; access to contractors' records; and the referral by GAO of findings to the Department of Justice.

Plagued by health problems, Campbell resigned from office in July 1965, having served almost 11 years of his 15 year term.  The San Francisco Chronicle noted his departure with the headline, "Taxpayers' Friend Resigns."

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