Q&A: Government Watchdogs

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley


Q: What is the Government Accountability Office (GAO)?


A: Legions of unsung heroes toil in the trenches, behind the scenes to protect taxpayer dollars and help members of Congress conduct our constitutional oversight responsibilities. One federal agency tasked with compiling facts, making recommendations and issuing legal opinions celebrates 100 years of serving the public on July 1. A century ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) started its work as a federal watchdog. Tasked with a nonpartisan, fact-finding mission, the federal agency scrutinizes spending and follows the paper trail within the federal bureaucracy. Throughout my years of oversight, I’ve leaned on the GAO to check into potential mismanagement and help identify waste, fraud and abuse. Its policy experts provide objective audits on government operations to inform policymakers about the cost and effectiveness of federal programs. With more than $6 trillion in the federal pipeline under the umbrella of pandemic relief, it’s more important than ever to keep a tight leash on where those dollars are spent.


Recently, I’ve asked the GAO to conduct a review of the Nursing Home Compare website and Nursing Home Five-Star Rating System. When Americans look for long-term care facilities to care for a loved one, they ought to be able to trust information provided on the federal website to present accurate, useful and meaningful data. From my committee assignments in the U.S. Senate, I’ve conducted oversight and passed legislation to help prevent elder abuse and exploitation, such as abusive, humiliating social media posts and to prevent physical abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. Years ago, when I chaired the Senate Aging Committee, GAO reports helped expose substandard care in nursing homes. My oversight hearings helped enact reforms during the Clinton administration, including the launch of Nursing Home Compare, the online federal database for families to check nursing home compliance, staffing and inspection information. However, as with any government program, it’s not a good idea to leave it on auto-pilot. The GAO flags issues for lawmakers and releases recommendations to federal agencies to improve effectiveness and protect tax dollars. Since Nursing Home Compare launched, the GAO has identified gaps to improve the website’s utility for families. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated this tool to include health care providers under one online umbrella, called Care Compare. Users may narrow their search by location and provider type to find information about specific health care providers, from nursing homes to hospice care, hospitals and other providers in local communities. I look forward to learning what the GAO finds in its investigation to make Care Compare more effective for families looking for information on nursing home care for a loved one.


Q: How else do government watchdogs help your oversight work?


A: Since the day I arrived in Congress, I’ve worked to bring Iowa’s fiscal discipline to the policy tables in Washington, D.C. Keeping a tight-fisted grip on the purse strings means I work to keep a lid on the federal debt, pinch pennies when Congress hammers out the budget blueprint, and squeeze every tax dollar the federal government collects on income, wages and investment. With an unprecedented $6.5 trillion spent in 2020-2021, it takes relentless oversight to track down wasteful spending and hold wrongdoers to account. To ensure taxpayer dollars are spent as Congress intended, we need all the eyes and ears on the ground we can get to help root out waste, fraud and abuse. That’s why I’ve long championed whistleblower protections to protect our energy grid, pandemic relief, financial systems and tax compliance. I’m also working to strengthen the independence of Inspectors General (IG) and appreciate the important work of the GAO to help hold government accountable to the taxpayer. Whistleblowers who stick their necks out to report wrongdoing deserve protections for putting their careers and reputations on the line. The federal government has investigative teams in 73 offices of U.S. Inspectors General. Sometimes, it’s necessary to keep the watchdogs on a tight leash to protect the integrity and independence of their mission. Congress depends on impartial investigations of IGs and the GAO to provide an independent, nonpartisan review of government programs and federal agencies. As a strong advocate for the American taxpayer, I lean on whistleblowers and government watchdogs to help me root out abuse and wasteful spending across the board, from the Pentagon, to federal farm payments, veterans benefits and Medicare and Medicaid. Every dollar lost to sticky fingers or mismanagement rips off the taxpayer and cheats a Medicare patient, veteran, unemployed worker or disaster victim from receiving assistance.