We’ve already introduced you to the first U.S. Comptroller General, John R. McCarl. While McCarl set the course for GAO, his successor didn’t have much time to fill those substantial shoes. Today’s WatchBlog shares the short tenure (1939–1940) of the second CG, Fred H. Brown.
Life before GAO
Despite not having much time to leave a mark on GAO, Fred H. Brown was one of the more colorful—or at least athletic—CGs to-be. Born in 1879 in New Hampshire, he was an avid athlete. He not only excelled in basketball, playing on amateur teams and later for Dartmouth College, but also played pro baseball for the Boston Beaneaters.
After becoming a lawyer, he went on to hold several elected offices, including mayor of Somersworth, New Hampshire; governor of New Hampshire; and U.S. Senator.
Brown steps up to the plate…
After McCarl retired, the United States was without a Comptroller General for 3 years. McCarl’s assistant comptroller general filled the role while President Franklin D. Roosevelt pondered a permanent replacement.
Despite our current reputation, GAO was actually a fairly controversial institution within the federal government at the time. This stemmed both from McCarl’s resolve that the agency have the authority to audit federal spending and from a lack of clarity about whether GAO would be an executive or legislative branch agency. In fact, between GAO’s founding in 1921 and when our second CG was installed in office in 1939, there were repeated efforts to reform or abolish GAO.
When FDR came into office, he also wanted to make radical changes to GAO’s organization and mission. FDR nominated Brown, but that same day Congress passed a bill that exempted GAO from the president’s authority to reorganize agencies.
Brown was only able to serve as CG for a little over a year before illness forced him to resign. Because his term was so short, he didn’t leave a substantial imprint on the organization.
However, GAO was not Brown’s final stop. Soon after he resigned, he was appointed to the U.S. Tariff Commission. But again his health forced him to resign after only a year. He then returned to his home state of New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 1955.
Can’t get enough GAO history? Check out some of our other historically-focused WatchBlog posts!