GAO Says It Will Forego Oversight of Intelligence

One way to supplement and improve intelligence oversight would be to employ the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress, to perform routine audits of key intelligence functions.

Yet this potentially valuable oversight tool lies dormant due to opposition from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The GAO will not even attempt to conduct oversight of intelligence unless it is specifically tasked to do so by the Congressional intelligence committees, a GAO official said (pdf) last week.

“For us to undertake such work would require the sponsorship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.”

“While we have the authority to do such work, we lack the cooperation we need to get our job done in that area. As a result, unless and until we receive such cooperation, and given GAO’s limited recourse, we will continue our long-standing policy of not doing work that relates directly to intelligence matters unless requested to do so by one of the select intelligence committees.”

The statement appeared in a June 14 letter report to Congress on security clearance policy (at footnote 1).

This places responsibility on the intelligence committees to fully utilize the tools at their disposal, including the GAO.

“Every committee member up for re-election in 2006 and 2008 … should be required to commit publicly to applying the full weight of the GAO, with added resources, to intelligence matters,” urged Robert Steele of Open Source Solutions.

In 2001 testimony, a GAO official outlined his agency’s authority to conduct intelligence oversight and described the history of GAO access to intelligence information.

“We have not actively audited the CIA since the early 1960s, when we discontinued such work because the CIA was not providing us with sufficient access to information to perform our mission,” said Harry L. Hinton, Jr.

See “Observations on GAO Access to Information on CIA Programs and Activities,” July 18, 2001.

And see, relatedly, “CIA News, Inc.” from the Project on Government Oversight.

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