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The Watchdog is Afoot!

Posted on May 22, 2020

Sherlock Holmes might be literature’s most famous detective, but he can still surprise you. For example, did you know that in the original books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson”?

May 22 is Sherlock Holmes Day. To celebrate, today’s WatchBlog highlights some little-known facts about our own investigators and analysts in GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service team—and the surprising things they’ve found in recent years.

Exposing fraud

In The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, Mycroft Holmes is introduced as Sherlock’s older brother—and a government auditor. Holmes credits his brother with being the “most indispensable man in the country.” While we know that Mycroft probably did more than audit the government’s books, we’ll still take the compliment.

Our analysts do provide important insight into fraud in federal programs. For instance, they’ve found fraud risks in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program—such as “sham” schools that help students get visas to live in the U.S. without requiring that they attend classes.


Photo of a police officer entering an office at a school.

Our investigators have also looked into fraud in the Head Start program. Investigators attempted to enroll fictitious children at 15 Head Start centers using information that should have disqualified their applications—like pay stubs that exceeded income requirements. We found potential fraud at 5 of these centers, such as schools doctoring our applications to exclude disqualifying information.

Masters of disguise

Sherlock Holmes often disguised himself during investigations. For instance, he played the part of a drunken, out-of-work groom to get into Irene Adler’s house in A Scandal in Bohemia.

Our investigators don’t wear disguises, but they have gone undercover for operations. For example, GAO was asked to look into whether the campuses at the National Institute of Standards and Technology—a U.S. national laboratory that conducts research on sensitive areas like bioscience and manufacturing—were secure. But our investigators were able to gain unauthorized access to various areas of these campuses in Maryland and Colorado.

Hot tips

Sherlock Holmes relies on the public to bring him interesting cases. Case in point: in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. James Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes for advice after his friend (Sir Charles Baskerville) is found dead in the park near his house.

Like Sherlock, GAO also needs help from the public. In addition to our regular efforts to investigate fraud, we have been tasked by Congress to monitor the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for fraud. To help us with these efforts, we are turning to the public for help identifying fraud, waste, or abuse.

You can report any of your concerns related to fraud in federal programs or the CARES Act to GAO’s FraudNet using:

  • Our online reporting portal
  • Via email at
  • Or by calling our hotline at 1-800-424-5454

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, FraudNet staff are working remotely to maintain social distancing. As a result, we strongly encourage you to submit your concern online so we may provide a more timely response.

To learn more about our intrepid investigators, check out our website.

GAO Contacts

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