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Public Statements

Government Accountability Office Improvement Act of 2008

Location: Washington, DC

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - July 29, 2008)


Mr. DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to state at the outset that the most important issue in the country right now is the rising cost of fuels, and we can't have that debate because leadership on the other side refuses to allow us votes on domestic exploration. And I wish we were talking about that today, but let me say this. I'm going to speak for H.R. 6388, the Government Accountability Office Improvement Act of 2008.

This bill does a number of things. First of all, one of the things it does is overturn the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's decision in Walker v. Cheney where the court held the GAO lacked standing to sue the Vice President to compel the release of information pertaining to the Vice President's Energy Task Force. It was the first time in its then-81-year-old history that the GAO filed suit against an executive branch official regarding access to records. This is an important issue for congressional power and oversight, and the White House, for obvious reasons, is opposing the bill for that reason institutionally. The White House is protecting the ``institution,'' the executive branch, not the administration, which this bill doesn't affect.

Our interests here should also be ``institutional'' as well making sure that this Congress and future Congresses have this type of oversight over future executives.

Last July, the GAO submitted to Congress a legislative proposal to make a number of largely noncontroversial changes to their authorizing statute. The Government Oversight and Reform Committee addressed many of these reforms. The bill we're taking up today represents an effort by Congress to strengthen and clarify GAO's investigative authority.

I had several concerns about this legislation as it was originally introduced. The bill would have included new language giving GAO specific access to Medicare Part D data held by the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as trade secrets held by the Food and Drug Administration. Congress has access to that information now. We didn't think new language would be necessary.

The original bill also included broad language to expand GAO's authority to interview agency employees and administer oaths to witnesses in conjunction with investigations.

But I would add we, the Committee, adopted the amendment offered by Chairman Waxman and myself to improve the original bill, and specifically section 4 of the bill now includes language to ensure GAO will protect the most sensitive data it obtains under this section.

Now section 4 will clarify GAO's access to data specific to Medicare Part D held by the Department of Health and Human Services, trade secrets held by the Food and Drug Administration and proprietary commercial information held by the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

In its current form, these provisions are intended to remedy problems that GAO has encountered in getting agencies to voluntarily turn over such sensitive data.

The amendment adopted by the committee attempts to ensure that this data containing valuable trade secrets and other confidential commercial information is not disclosed.

While it's still not clear that we need this section, the amendment adopted by the committee gives me a sufficient level of comfort that information containing trade secrets and other confidential commercial data to which GAO has access will be protected against improper disclosure.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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