Careers - Career Paths at GAO - Legal Careers at GAO
Attorneys Work on Many Topics
Our attorneys are assigned to one or more of the following teams within OGC:
- Acquisition and Sourcing Management Team (CNSA)
- Defense Capabilities and Management (DCM)
- Education, Workforce, and Income Security (EWIS)
- Financial Management and Assurance (FMA)
- Financial Markets and Community Investment (FMCI)
- Health Care (HC)
- Homeland Security and Justice (HSJ)
- Information Technology (IT)
- International Affairs and Trade (IAT)
- Natural Resources & Environment (NRE)
- Physical Infrastructure (PI)
- Strategic Issues (SI)
- Budget and Appropriations Group (BAG)
- Forensic Audits and Investigative Service (FAIS)
- Legal Services (LS)
- Procurement Law (PL)
Acquisition and Sourcing Management (CNSA) attorneys work with GAO's CNSA team to find ways to improve how the government acquires goods and services. Each year the government spends more than $200 billion through contracts it has awarded. CNSA attorneys handle a wide array of significant issues arising from both the processes used to award and administer these contracts and the programs carried out through these contracts.
CNSA's day-to-day work is a fast-moving practice that includes analysis of complex legal transactions, drafting and reviewing proposed legislation, assessing evidentiary support for audit findings, critical analysis of existing and proposed policy, as well as determining agency and contractor compliance with statutes and regulations that govern federal acquisitions. Practicing law with CNSA requires a high level of interaction with clients, other federal agency counsels, and congressional staff members. Each member of the CNSA team assumes primary responsibility for his or her own caseload.
Defense Capabilities and Management (DCM) attorneys provide legal support for GAO's DCM team, which leads GAO's efforts to assist the Department of Defense (DOD), Congress, and the President as they undertake the challenges of defending the U.S. in the 21st century. DCM conducts a wide range of studies on current and future defense issues and provides analyses, recommendations, and policy options to congressional and executive branch officials on ways to improve the government's policies and programs in seven mission areas: defense force structure; infrastructure; resource and business transformation; homeland defense and emerging warfare; logistics; personnel; and readiness.
The Education, Workforce, and Income Security (EWIS) team works on matters affecting all of us, almost from "cradle to grave." The work on education and childrens' programs covers issues such as the Head Start program, K-12 education, and the student loan program. For example, attorneys interpret the No Child Left Behind Act in support of GAO reviews of the implementation of the law's many new federal requirements. EWIS attorneys also advise on workforce and labor laws, including the Workforce Investment Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. A third practice area deals with retirement and disability programs, the largest of which is Social Security. Recent failures of large pension plans in certain industries have generated a body of work aimed at helping to inform the debate in Congress about how to ensure that all workers have sufficient wealth during their retirement years.
The laws and programs EWIS attorneys work on are often complex and challenging. EWIS attorneys have been involved in reviews related to the offshoring of jobs to other countries, protecting the safety and health of rescue workers responding to Hurricane Katrina, and testing of students with limited English proficiency.
FMA provides legal advice to Congress and others on a wide variety of issues associated with improving financial management of the federal government its programs and operations. Unlike many GAO teams, FMA's work is not concentrated on specific agencies but is as broad as GAO itself. While FMA primarily focuses on the financial management of all entities in the federal government, the work occasionally concerns federal assistance recipients, international organizations, state and local governments, and the accounting and financial auditing professions. In several jobs involving multiple agencies, FMA attorneys helped GAO analysts develop criteria to identify various types of misuse of government purchase and travel cards at the Army, Navy, Air Force, FAA, Forest Service, Education, and HUD. Sometimes it is tricky deciding whether using purchase and travel cards for designer luggage, Las Vegas trips, and Victoria's Secret is fraudulent, improper, or just wasteful.
FMA's work also covers the accounting profession. As part of legislative initiatives responding to WorldCom, Enron, and other financial failures, FMA attorneys played a significant role in drafting legislation and developing principles for a new oversight structure for the accounting profession, new corporate governance responsibilities, and improved auditor independence standards. FMA attorneys also serve as counsel to the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, and provide legal support for three publications widely used by the government accounting profession-the GAO Financial Audit Manual and the Yellow Book, which establish auditing standards for government audits, and the Green Book, which establishes internal control standards for managers to apply to achieve their objectives.
In addition to working with Congress on legislation that stems from GAO reports,
Congress frequently asks FMA attorneys to work on legislation governing the management of other Congressional agencies. FMA has helped Congress develop, draft, and analyze legislation changing the financial management structure and operations of the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol, and the Library of Congress.
Interested in identity theft? Money laundering? Internet gambling? Hurricane Katrina disaster loans? Corporate governance problems? Then OGC's Financial Markets and Community Investment (FMCI) team may be the place for you!
FMCI attorneys help Congress oversee the operations of the U.S. financial markets and regulating agencies, as well as the government and private-sector entities involved in housing finance and community development. For example, FMCI attorneys participate in GAO's reviews of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration, and the Federal Housing Administration, as well as bank regulators, government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac), and other agencies involved in financial markets and community investment.
The Health Care (HC) team works on a host of legal and program issues related to federal health care matters, including
- Medicare and Medicaid
- private health insurance
- food and drug law
- veterans health
- public health, and
- military health care
From abuses in the Medicaid system, to prescription drug safety, to bioterrorism preparedness, it is hard to imagine a collection of more fascinating topics!
The attorneys in the Health Care area continue to work on interesting issues that are critically important to Congress and the American people. Ongoing projects in which the attorneys are involved cover the implementation of the "Part D" prescription drug benefit, the oversight of clinical labs, health care reform, the administration of "abstinence-only" education programs, drug and medical device safety, the transition of returning service-members from the Department of Defense to VA medical programs, and the management of patient evacuations from nursing homes and hospitals in natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.
The Homeland Security and Justice (HSJ) team performs reviews relating to the Department of Justice (DOJ), including the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, as well as to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The creation of DHS, the second-largest department in the U.S. government, combined a number of major components, including the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service, as well as a number of others. HSJ attorneys have addressed myriad legal issues of first impression since DHS was established.
A range of substantive issues crosses the desks of HSJ attorneys: disaster relief issues stemming from Hurricane Katrina, immigration, aviation and maritime security, federal drug interdiction efforts, the federal judiciary, prisons, information sharing issues, antiterrorism activities-and even the administration of federal elections. For example, HSJ attorneys have reviewed post 9-11 legislation and regulation to address aviation security issues relating to passenger screening, baggage screening, the Federal Air Marshals Service, and airport perimeter security.
The OGC-IT team provides legal support to the Information Technology Team as it audits all aspects of the IT life cycle, including the acquisition and management of information resource management hardware and software.
A successful IT program is critical to the ability of federal agencies to perform at a high level. Over the past several years, the IT team has reviewed IT systems in virtually every agency in the executive branch, including the Executive Office of the President. Because of the crosscutting nature of information technology, we work with a number of committees in both houses of Congress. The work can vary from issues that transcend the use of IT in the federal government, such as IT security, to specific audits of the performance of a particular IT system tracking foreign visitors in the United States. We leverage the results of our audit work by working with the Senate Governmental Affairs and House Government Reform committees to craft legislation establishing a management structure for the acquisition, management, and oversight of the federal government's IT resources.
In today's rapidly changing and increasingly interdependent world, issues that traditionally had a domestic focus often have international components and implications, requiring GAO to conduct work overseas.
GAO's international work includes audits, reviews, and related information-gathering activities on international programs or activities involving U.S. federal agencies, such as the Departments of State and Treasury, and international organizations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations.
Attorneys in OGC's International Affairs and Trade (IAT) issue area provide legal support for audits and evaluations carried out by GAO's IAT group. At any given time, each attorney is responsible for providing support on a number of different engagements. They provide this support by participating as full members of multidisciplinary teams consisting of auditors, analysts, economists, methodologists, and writer-editors. These engagements often involve "front-page" issues such as efforts to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, management of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and in tsunami-damaged areas of Asia, World Trade Organization negotiations, international efforts to prevent the spread of avian influenza, and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
OGC's Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) team works on cutting-edge issues from "A"-anthrax contamination and Army base cleanups-to "Z"-Zayante band-winged grasshoppers and Zapata bladderpods! Yet NRE's diverse issues have one thing in common-every day, they directly affect the lives of the American people.
NRE attorneys assist Congress in balancing preservation of the nation's natural resources and environment with our industrial development and operations. The tension that can arise between these competing goals can be seen in the five different legal areas for which NRE is responsible-the environment, energy, natural resources, agriculture & food safety, and science.
Our work gets us involved in exciting front-page issues: GAO's landmark dispute with the Vice President over energy task force records began as a routine NRE investigation and evolved into Walker v. Cheney, GAO's first and only records-access lawsuit against a federal official.
How safe, reliable, and viable are our nation's transportation systems-from the airlines to the railroads? With the rapid growth of the Internet and other telecommunications technology, is our existing legal and regulatory framework adequate? PI lawyers are at the forefront of resolving legal issues relating to transportation, telecommunications, and postal services—the infrastructure that links people, goods, and ideas throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
More specifically, PI attorneys help Congress oversee many programs relating to the nation's transportation system, including aviation, highways, and rail services, as well as the safety of and funding for these systems. We analyze issues across the spectrum of telecommunications law, from the funding of public television stations to the manner in which Internet service providers are taxed. PI attorneys also handle issues relating to the Postal Service, its structure and functions, and proposals for reform, as well as issues relating to the maintenance of federal buildings-including the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian museums.
The Strategic Issues team covers a wide range of issues including federal employment law, federal equal employment opportunity (EEO) law, administrative law, and tax administration.
Examples of some of SI's recent assignments include the following:
- Reviews of recent legislation, proposed regulations, and pending litigation relating to the development of new personnel systems for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, two federal agencies which employ over one-half of all federal employees
- Reviews of numerous Internal Revenue Service programs including IRS' efforts to stem offshore tax evasion, to comply with Bank Secrecy Act requirements, to contract out tax debt collection, and to address the tax treatment of settlements by private corporations with federal agencies
- Reviews of the various elements of the upcoming 2010 Census, a huge undertaking by the Census Bureau which will cost nearly $12 billion
- Testimony on the status of several regulatory reform initiatives by the Congress and the Executive Branch to enhance and improve rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act
- Examination of the federal government's preparedness for a pandemic influenza outbreak in the United States
Much of the work of SI involves examination of government-wide issues and working with other audit teams, so naturally much of the work of the SI attorneys involves working closely with our colleagues in OGC and with other audit teams in GAO. The SI attorneys may consult with their colleagues on legal issues, attend key meetings, and review the draft reports and testimonies before issuance.
BAG is a unique group in OGC in that its work includes both decision-writing and client support. BAG attorneys carry out two of the Comptroller General's statutory responsibilities: to provide decisions to heads of federal agencies and other federal officials on matters of appropriations law, and to hear requests from certain federal officers for relief of liability for improper payments and loss of federal funds. Most decisions address unusual fact situations and highly sensitive, visible legal issues requiring scholarly research, analysis and writing. BAG's decisions run from the mundane (such as advising the Corps of Engineers that it can't pay for insulated coveralls for Corps employees who operate locks on the Great Lakes) to the constitutionally significant (such as telling the White House that it can't have the President's budget printed by a private company).
BAG attorneys are viewed within the federal community as the experts in appropriations law. Attorneys work closely with congressional staff on any issue involving the use of federal funds, and help draft appropriations legislation. BAG teaches a 3-day appropriations law course, and is responsible for GAO's multivolume publication, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law.
BAG attorneys also provide legal advice and counsel to its Strategic Issues clients-GAO's federal budget issues group. Because of the nexus between appropriations law and budget policy, BAG, rather than SI, supports GAO's budget work. With the emphasis in recent years on federal spending and the nation's financial priorities, this work draws BAG attorneys into complex, high-profile policy debates, often of constitutional consequence-biennial budgeting, earmarks and lobbying reform, for example. BAG attorneys work closely with their Budget clients as integral members of a team. The attorneys accompany their clients to briefings of Members and congressional staff, and support their clients who testify at congressional hearings.
Office of Special Investigations attorneys perform a wide variety of legal services in connection with forensic audits and investigations conducted by GAO's Forensic Audits and Special Investigations unit. These audits and investigations explore allegations of waste, abuse, and of wrongdoing, including criminal activity, related to federal funds, programs, and activities.
Teaming with FSI forensic analysts and criminal investigators, FSI attorneys provide legal advice and assistance on a host of challenging and unique legal issues throughout the course of audits and investigations. In this regard, FSI attorneys identify possible violations of law, rule, or regulation; help prepare investigative plans; and draft legal memoranda, congressional testimonies and correspondence, and referrals of criminal wrongdoing and abuse. Recently, FSI attorneys have assisted FSI on audits and investigations involving Internet purchases of anabolic steroids, fraudulent use of government purchase cards, and criminal activity associated with disaster relief and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Because these and other projects span the spectrum of GAO's work, FSI attorneys frequently work closely with other teams in OGC and GAO.
FSI attorneys are also responsible for reviewing legal issues and providing advice regarding FSI's authority to use certain investigative techniques such as consensual monitoring of communications or undercover operations. As a result, FSI attorneys have played a key role in undercover investigations that have exposed vulnerabilities in security measures at the nation's borders, airports and federal buildings; weaknesses in the Department of Education's student loan program; and the manipulation of unemployment tax rates by some companies.
Legal Services (LS) attorneys serve as GAO's in-house counsel, represent GAO when it is sued, and provide advice and assistance with the aim of ensuring that management conducts its actions in a legally defensible manner. LS's work can be any legal advice needed to run an agency, but much of what it does is about human capital or, in simpler terms, people!
Most LS attorneys are trained litigators and defend GAO in investigations and lawsuits at the administrative and trial level (where they assist U.S. attorneys). The responsibilities involve such litigation tasks as preparing witnesses for interviews, conducting depositions and trial testimony, negotiating settlements, and preparing motions and briefs. LS's work runs the full gamut of EEO and personnel laws-hirings and firings, pay and promotion issues, allegations of sexual harassment and claims of retaliation. LS also provides advice and assistance to GAO managers on proper personnel management, in the hope of avoiding litigation and, more importantly, to insure that managers comply with EEO laws and merit systems principles. The litigation staff also represents managers in depositions and trial testimony on third-party litigation matters that implicate or involve GAO's audits and reports to Congress.
Apart from the litigation function, LS has played an increasingly significant role in the Comptroller General's human capital initiatives. Several LS attorneys are dedicated to working on the CG's initiatives and issues of a personnel nature, such as GAO's pay structure, enhanced recruitment incentives and bonuses, a voluntary early retirement program, and an executive exchange program with the private sector. These tasks often require analysis of the provisions of Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which contains the personnel laws for the executive branch, and may entail drafting cutting-edge legislation or regulations needed for the CG to achieve his human capital goals. LS also provides procurement advice for GAO on matters pertaining to providing services and products GAO needs. In sum, if a matter relates to GAO's internal management, administration, or legal defense, LS most likely plays a role.
Procurement Law (PL) attorneys are key players in the world of federal contracting. Under the Competition in Contracting Act, GAO has statutory authority to decide disputes over the award of government contracts. These disputes-"bid protests" typically involve allegations by individuals or companies that a contract has been improperly awarded. Within GAO, PL attorneys are responsible for resolving bid protests by interpreting and applying the numerous federal statutes and regulations governing procurement to the specific facts and allegations raised in each protest.
PL attorneys, functioning like judges in other administrative proceedings, handle all aspects of case development in protests they are assigned. These responsibilities cover a range of activities, such as resolving disputes over the release of documents to the parties, the redaction of pleadings, and the admission of attorneys and consultants to GAO's protective orders; ruling on a wide range of substantive and procedural motions; and holding hearings to receive testimony from witnesses knowledgeable about the dispute. A PL attorney's efforts culminate in a published decision.