As the United States engages in conflicts overseas, GAO has worked for decades to identify ways to improve military operations and safeguard taxpayer dollars. While some of our work is done in our GAO offices, we have also sent analysts into the field to carry out our mission.
GAO got its start in 1921 under the Budget and Accounting Act. GAO was created because federal financial management was in disarray after World War I. Wartime spending had driven up the national debt, and Congress saw that it needed more information and better control over expenditures. As our mission evolved over the years, military conflicts continued to be an important area for GAO oversight. Here are some of the ways GAO has served the nation’s interest in conflicts from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
Vietnam War. In 1966, GAO opened an office in Saigon from which it conducted audit work in Vietnam—sometimes under combat conditions. For example, in 1969 six GAO auditors narrowly escaped injury when enemy rockets hit the barracks in which they were sleeping. GAO reported on topics including contract management and the effects of Agent Orange.
- The Contra War. In the late 1980s, following the disclosure of the U.S. sale of arms to Iran and provision of aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, GAO assessed U.S. efforts to aid the Contras and reviewed the transfer of weapons from the Department of Defense to the Central Intelligence Agency.
- Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield. In the early 1990s, GAO issued reports assessing, for example, the effectiveness of the U.S. Operation Desert Storm air campaign, the adequacy of medical supplies, and military asset safeguarding and accountability.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom. GAO began sending analysts to Iraq in 2004, maintaining a continuous presence at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2008 through 2011. GAO analysts assessed, among other things, the efforts to secure, stabilize, and rebuild Iraq; the use of private security contractors; and the drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment.
Operation Enduring Freedom. GAO sent analysts to conduct oversight in Afghanistan as early as 2002. GAO currently maintains a continuous presence of analysts at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. GAO analysts have investigated a wide range of key oversight issues, including the role of U.S. forces in developing the Afghan National Army, DOD’s Afghanistan assistance programs, and the management of contractors. According to one GAO analyst who recently returned to GAO Headquarters after 6 months in Afghanistan, GAO staff working out of the embassy have traveled throughout Afghanistan to support audit work to areas including Bagram, Helmand province, Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-Sharif.