GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service Team

FAIS logoGAO’s workforce is organized largely by subject area, with most employees working in 1 of 14 mission teams. Today we’ll be putting the spotlight on the Forensic Audits and Investigative Service (FAIS) team, which focuses on the identification and prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse across the federal government. FAIS is unique within GAO because in addition to auditors and analysts, it includes a team of criminal investigators that perform special investigations and security assessments. FAIS also maintains FraudNet, an online system where federal employees, contractors, and members of the general public can report allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of federal funds.


FAIS’s work includes three main types of assessments:

  • Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Audits

To identify fraud, waste, and abuse, FAIS conducts forensic audits. We define a forensic audit as a systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of internal controls over a program, process, or policies and procedures. Forensic audits identify ineffective controls and vulnerabilities and use data mining and investigations to expose areas of fraud, waste, abuse, and security vulnerabilities to show the effect of inadequate controls.

For example, in 2013, we reported that the Social Security Administration (SSA) made an estimated $1.29 billion in potential disability benefit overpayments from December 2010 to January 2013. We compared SSA data with earnings data from the National Directory of New Hires to identify individuals who earned wages and received disability benefits at the same time.

  • Certificates images

    Counterfeit birth certificates FAIS investigators used to obtain genuine driver’s licenses.

    Special Investigations

Special investigations may involve undercover work and vary widely, from purchasing counterfeit military supply parts on the Internet to testing the quality of paid tax preparers. As part of a 2012 report on driver’s license security, our investigators used counterfeit out-of-state driver’s licenses and birth certificates to obtain licenses in 3 states under fictitious identities, which helped identify weaknesses in the system.

  • Security/Vulnerability Assessments

FAIS uses covert testing and overt assessment techniques and frequently works with other GAO teams to assess vulnerabilities in national and homeland security. For example, in 2011 we reported on security vulnerabilities at 13 general aviation airports. The Department of Homeland Security agreed to work with the general aviation community to address those vulnerabilities.


In fiscal year 2013, FAIS work identified more than $1.4 billion in financial benefits for the federal government, as well as 60 other efficiencies. Through special investigations and forensic audit work, FAIS provided support for 3 congressional hearings with other GAO teams.

A Closer Look at an FAIS Report: Security Clearances for People with Tax Debt

As of October 2012, about 4.9 million civilian and military employees and contractors held security clearances. Federal laws do not prohibit an individual with unpaid federal taxes from holding a security clearance, but tax debt poses a potential vulnerability. People who are financially overextended are considered to be at risk of having to engage in illegal acts for money. Tax debt is one measure of a security clearance applicant’s financial condition, but currently, identifying an applicant’s tax debt is difficult.

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Excerpted from GAO-13-733

We compared security clearance data from the Office of Personnel Management with tax debt data from the Internal Revenue Service and found that about 8,400 out of 240,000 individuals judged to be eligible for a security clearance from April 2006 to December 2011 had tax debt. Among them, they owed approximately $85 million in unpaid federal taxes as of June 2012. We recommended that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence study the feasibility of regularly obtaining tax debt information from IRS for the purposes of investigating security clearance applicants and monitoring current clearance holders’ tax-debt status.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Steve Lord at
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Looking at Green Cities and Green Buildings for Earth Day

Today is the 34th annual Earth Day, and this year’s theme is “Green Cities.” To mark the occasion, let’s look at some of our work examining the federal government’s role in encouraging green building.

Excerpted from GAO-12-79

Green building practices can create more resource-efficient buildings, lower operating costs, reduce pollution, and improve indoor air quality.  In 2008, the Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that U.S. buildings consumed almost 40 percent of the nation’s energy and emitted about 39 percent of its carbon dioxide.  Federal laws have directed agencies, including DOE, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to foster green building practices in the “nonfederal sector.” This accounts for most of the nation’s buildings and includes state and local government as well as private sector buildings.  In November 2011, we reported that there were 94 federal initiatives across 11 agencies designed to promote green building practices in the nonfederal sector. Continue reading

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Foreclosure Rescue Schemes and You

housing thumbnailEvidence suggests that individuals who are less financially savvy are more likely to fall victim to financial scams, hold high cost mortgages, and engage in costly credit card behavior. As a result, the cost of limited financial literacy can be extremely high. Throughout Financial Literacy Month, we are highlighting key GAO reports that provide useful financial information for consumers. Continue reading

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As Tax Day Arrives, How is IRS Managing the Filing Season?

taxes thumbnailToday is the deadline for filing federal individual income tax returns. By this point in time, if you needed to ask IRS questions about tax laws or your account, you’ve probably already been through the process at least once. If you didn’t ask IRS a question, you probably know someone who did: in 2013, IRS received 93.5 million phone calls and 21 million pieces of correspondence. Add that to processing about 142 million tax returns and issuing more than 100 million refunds last year, and IRS has an enormous undertaking on their hands. Each year, we track how well IRS does its job during the tax filing season. Here are some of the things we found in our reviews of recent filing seasons. Continue reading

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A Look at Health Care in Underserved Populations for National Public Health Week

Health Care imageEach year, the first full week of April marks National Public Health Week. During this time, people gather to recognize contributions to public health and highlight issues that are important to improving health across the country.

This year’s theme is “Public Health: Start Here,” focusing on being proactive about health and safety. From the beginning of life (maternal health), to before disaster strikes (emergency preparedness), National Public Health Week is putting a spotlight on healthy beginnings. Relatedly, we have reported on underserved populations, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, who face challenges and unique health care needs that make it difficult for them to take a proactive role in their overall health. Continue reading

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AskGAOLive: IRS Securing Financial and Taxpayer Data

Web chat graphicWhat happens to all the personal data you send to IRS with your tax return? Join us for a chat about IRS controls to secure your data from threats, today at 2:00pm ET. You can send us your questions in advance via e-mail or on Twitter using #AskGAOLive.

In the course of collecting taxes, the Internal Revenue Service handles sensitive financial and personal taxpayer information. It relies on its information systems and security controls to keep that information secure. Gregory Wilshusen, a director in GAO’s Information Technology team, will discuss the findings of GAO’s recent evaluation and answer your questions.

Can’t tune in at 2:00?

  • We will update this blog post with a YouTube recording of the chat when it is available.
  • Read our recent report on IRS information security.
  • Listen to our podcast with director Greg Wilshusen.

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2014 Duplication and Cost Savings Report

Duplication icon

As the fiscal pressures facing the government continue to mount, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities. Today, we released our 4th annual report on federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives that have duplicative goals or activities. Continue reading

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Government Accountability Office: What’s in a Name?

When we were created in 1921, “GAO” stood for “General Accounting Office.”

2013_GAO_Exterior_01That year, the Budget and Accounting Act transferred auditing responsibilities, accounting, and claims functions from the Treasury Department to a new agency, independent of the executive branch, with a broad mandate to investigate how federal dollars are spent.

In our early years, GAO primarily reviewed government vouchers and receipts, so “accounting” fit the bill. Over the decades, our work grew to include program evaluations and policy analyses, and legal opinions and decisions. Today, while financial auditing is an important part of the services we offer, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading

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How Data, Leadership, and Collaboration Can Improve Government Results

Government thumbnail imageEffective performance management helps the federal government to improve outcomes in areas that affect nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives, from education, healthcare, and housing to national and homeland security.

To that end, the Office of Management and Budget released new agency and cross-agency priority goals in the 2015 President’s Budget. These goals stem from the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010, known as GPRAMA. This Act requires federal agencies to collect performance information and use it to address fiscal, management, and performance challenges. Continue reading

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Podcast on Department of Defense “Quick Look”

GAO Podcast IconEach year, we publish an annual report titled, “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs,” more commonly referred to as the “Quick Look.”  In addition to providing brief summaries of numerous U.S. defense programs, the report provides insights on the Department of Defense’s acquisition process and serves as a valuable resource for Congress, congressional staff, and the public.

Today, we released the 2014 edition of the Quick Look. Check out the report, and listen to a podcast with Michael Sullivan, a director in our Acquisition and Sourcing Management team, discussing our work on weapon systems.

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