GAO: Working for Good Government Since 1921

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Effective July 7, 2004, the GAO's legal name became the Government Accountability Office. The change, which better reflects the modern professional services organization GAO has become, is a provision of the GAO Human Capital Reform Act of 2004, Pub. L. 108-271, 118 Stat. 811 (2004). This article was published in 2001 to mark GAO's 80th anniversary. It refers to the agency by its original name, the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Chapter 3, Lindsay C. Warren: Challenges and Change, 1940-1945

Lindsay C. Warren - portrait

After a long search for a new Comptroller General, President Roosevelt appointed former Senator Fred Brown to the position in 1939. However, ill health forced Brown to resign after only a year in office. Lindsay C. Warren, a former U.S. Representative who served briefly as Acting Majority Leader, succeeded him as Comptroller General.  Warren generally enjoyed good relations with Congress during his term in office.  He worked to make GAO a more useful agency and to change its approach to auditing in order to improve effectiveness.

An article in the Congressional Record on May 9, 1946 described the new Comptroller General's approach to managing GAO:

"Warren opened windows, swept out dust, introduced incentives.  He delighted in his discoveries.  He found a lot of latent brains lying around in obscure corners, and promptly put them to use.  Warren lighted a warm, imaginative fire. . . . Warren began to note happily, 'There's right much humanity in this office.'  There's also right much efficiency.   Warren does not share the smugness of certain predecessors.  'Before I took over, I was told that GAO was 100 percent right,' he recalls.  'That was somewhat frightening, if true.  I didn't feel like joining up with such a high state of perfection.  But the actuality proved not quite as bad as the rumor.  After 5 years of improvement, I'm now inclined to think that maybe we're right about 75 percent of the time.'"

National Archives - poster: United We Win NWDNS-44-PA-370

Warren faced enormous challenges early in his term as the U.S. entry into World War II inundated GAO with paperwork. The agency continued to do the same type of work it had done before the war but in increasing volume. Defense production soared after 1941 as the nation's factories geared up to meet the demands of war.  Government offices expanded, churning out mountains of expenditure forms for GAO to examine.  As men left civilian life for military service, large numbers of women entered the work force, taking jobs on industrial assembly lines and in offices.  By 1945, women made up nearly 63 per cent of GAO's employees.

National Archives poster - We can do it! NWDNS-179-WP-1563National Archives poster, Victory waits. . .NWDNS-44-PA-2272

GAO's activities included reviewing defense contracts and auditing the accounts of Army and Navy disbursing officers. The war effort created a blizzard of transportation vouchers for GAO to review as the government used the nation's rails and roads to carry freight and troops. The law allowed federal agencies to pay bills submitted by transportation carriers without determining if the rates charged were correct. It was GAO's job to examine all the paid transportation bills, determine any overcharges, and request refunds from the carriers.

To handle the increased workload, Warren hired additional audit clerks and freight examiners, more than doubling the size of his staff to nearly 15,000 by 1946.  GAO's employees put in long hours, but they could not clear the logjam of paperwork. They faced a backlog of 35 million unaudited vouchers in 1945 and had to spend several years catching up on work.  GAO's employees handled a staggering amount of paperwork during the 1940s. In 1947, GAO reconciled 490 million checks and audited 92,000 accountable officers' accounts, 5 million transportation vouchers, 1.5 million contracts, and 260 million postal money orders.

Photo 1 of 2 - GAO's Claims Division clerks, 1943
 
Photo 2 of 2 - GAO's Claims Division clerks, 1943

Young clerks hired to work in GAO's Claims Division, 1943  (GAO Archives photos)

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