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GAO Releases Database of Comptroller General Decisions

By Michael Ravnitzky, Published on February 12, 2007

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has for the first time released a massive two-part compilation of Comptroller General decisions and opinions that are included in two Excel spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet contains decisions from 1990 through 1995 and is posted here.  [note: for GAO Comptroller General Decisions from 1995 -Present, see this GPO Access searchable database. ]The second spreadsheet contains decisions prior to 1990, and is posted here.  The spreadsheets can be sorted by agency, as well as by date, and by decision number.  GAO will supply upon written request, a copy of any of the decisions identified, although some older decisions may take longer to retrieve and therefore to obtain.

For the most part, these lists do not include legal opinions issued to members of Congress, Congressional Committees, and executive branch agencies, another important function performed by GAO.

For over 100 years, the Comptroller General of the United States has issued decisions and opinions in certain areas of Federal law, such as appropriations, bid protests, federal procurement and Federal agency rulemaking. Congress provided accountable (disbursing and certifying) officers and heads of agencies the right to request decisions from the Comptroller General in advance of an audit and settlement of an account.

Since the 19th century, the Office of General Counsel within the GAO has held the important responsibility of issuing decisions and opinions in the areas mentioned above.  Many of these decisions and opinions have been designated as "B-number" documents, some of which are available online (since October 1995), and a small number of very recent decisions are available on the GAO website (in both HTML and PDF formats).

The Comptroller General is now the nation’s chief accountability officer, and serves as head of the Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office), or GAO.

GAO offers to provide individual copies of decisions not published on the web, upon request. In addition, GAO offers an email notification service for its new decisions here.

This GAO brochure is an excellent overview of GAO legal products.

As an agency of the legislative branch of government, GAO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. However GAO has established regulations that serve as an alternative public records access procedure.

The GAO final rule on Public Availability of General Accounting Office Records was published in the Friday, June 6, 2003 Federal Register, Vol. 68, No. 109, pages 33831-33834.  It contains the regulations concerning the availability of GAO records to the public, 4 C.F.R. Part 81 (2004).

From the GAO FOIA webpage: "The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 USC 552). However, GAO's disclosure policy follows the spirit of the act consistent with GAO's duties and functions as an agency with primary responsibility to the Congress."  See also the Who to contact at GAO to request records for further information.