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.

Newer fans of GAO may be surprised to learn that our name changed as recently as 2004. That year, the GAO Human Capital Reform Act changed our name to reflect our work:

“Effective July 7, 2004, the GAO’s legal name was changed from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office. The change, which better reflects the modern professional services organization GAO has become, is the most visible provision of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004, Pub. L. 108-271, 118 Stat. 811 (2004).

At the time of the name change, then-Comptroller General David Walker wrote in Roll Call that our “reports go beyond the question of whether federal funds are being spent appropriately to ask whether federal programs and policies are meeting their objectives and the needs of society.”


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