Transparent and Government Access to Information:

A Role for Supreme Audit Institutions

GAO-07-1068CG: Published: Jun 26, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 2007.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General before The Seventh Global Forum on Reinventing Government in Vienna, Austria on June 26, 2007. GAO takes seriously its responsibility to speak out on a range of complex and sometimes controversial issues. When it comes to key issues of concern to Congress and the nation, I can assure you GAO has no plans to stop speaking truth to power. GAO also seeks to lead by example on issues of transparency and accountability. GAO makes it a point to publicly report almost all of its work. Consistent with the values of a free and open society, GAO makes a vast majority of its work available not just to Congress and agency heads but to the public and the press via the Internet. Virtually every GAO report and testimony before Congress is posted on our Web site on the day it is issued. And the public does follow GAO's findings, conclusions, and recommendations. Every day, thousands of users access GAO's Web site and download our audit reports and other documents. But most Americans learn about GAO's work through news stories. That's why GAO has worked hard over the years to build good working relationships with print and broadcast journalists. We at GAO appreciate the important role that a free press plays in making citizens aware of important operational challenges and policy choices, and in holding public officials accountable. For 40 years, the Freedom of Information Act has guaranteed public access to U.S. government documents. GAO is in the legislative branch, so the act doesn't apply to us. But we strongly support this landmark legislation, and we voluntarily comply with the act's principles. GAO is also committed to an appropriate degree of transparency about our own key policies, procedures, and criteria. Whether it's a member of Congress requesting a GAO report or an agency head responding to a GAO request for information, we want people to have confidence that when they're dealing with GAO, they're going to be treated fairly and consistently. This transparency is seen in our new protocols for dealing with Congress and the agencies we audit. These protocols are comprehensive and detailed, and I recommend them for other SAIs. Finally, GAO holds itself accountable for results. For the past seven years, we've issued an annual report explaining what the agency has accomplished with the resources it has received. The report also describes our plans for the future and the overall themes our work will focus on. For example, last year, measurable financial benefits from GAO's work totaled a record $51 billion in U.S. dollars. That's an all-time record $105 return for every dollar invested in GAO. We also reported significant nonfinancial accomplishments that improved government operations. In my view, this sort of straightforward performance measurement and cost/benefit reporting should be standard throughout the U.S. government. With greater government transparency, average citizens will have a better understanding of the issues that matter. They may even make better choices at the voting booth. In my view, an informed electorate is more likely to accept leaders who are prepared to make difficult choices. An informed electorate is also more likely to accept shared sacrifice.

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