History of GAO

At a Glance

GAO employees in the Pension Building in the 1930s.
GAO employees in the Pension Building in the 1930s.

The Budget and Accounting Act created GAO in 1921 because federal financial management was in disarray after World War I.

Until the end of World War II, GAO primarily checked the legality and adequacy of government expenditures.

After World War II, as government responsibilities and programs grew, so did GAO. The focus of our work shifted toward helping Congress monitor executive branch agencies’ programs and spending.

In 1951, we moved into new headquarters across the street from the Pension Building.

In 1974, Congress broadened GAO's evaluation role and gave us greater responsibility in the budget process. This was when we started to recruit scientists, actuaries, and experts in fields such as health care, public policy, and computers.

In 1986, we assembled a team of professional investigators, many with law enforcement backgrounds, to look into allegations of possible criminal and civil misconduct.

During the last 20 years, we’ve strived to improve accountability by alerting policymakers and the public to emerging problems throughout government.

In 2004, GAO's legal name changed from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office. The change better reflects the modern professional services organization GAO has become.

Today, our agency that once checked millions of government vouchers has become a multidisciplinary organization equipped to handle Congress’s toughest audit and evaluation assignments.

Check out our video about GAO’s history.

GAO's History

The evolution of GAO’s work, from checking vouchers to providing multidisciplinary audit and evaluation services.

Historical Articles & Resources

Read more in these in-depth articles.