Problems of Access to Records and Information Needed for Performance of Audit Relating to Military Assistance Programs

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-06-24.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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                                                      UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
                                                              WASHINGTON, D. C. 20548

                                                                                                                     FOR RELEASE ON DELIVERY
                                                                                                                     ,Expected at 3:30 p.m. EDT
                                                                                                                     Thursday,  June 24, 1971

                                                     STATEMENT OF
                                                    OYE V. STOVALL
                                                       BEFORE THE
                                            SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
                                          SUBCOMMITTEEON FOREIGN OPERATIONS       5

                    Mr,       Chairman       and Members of the Committee:

                                 We are appearing                   in response         to your        request     for    our views          on the

                    problems            of access           to records            and information           needed for          performance

                    of our audit             responsibilities                     relating      to the military            assistance

\/            { programs.
          i                      One of the most important                         duties      of the General            Accounting

                    Office            is to make independent                      reviews      of agency programs               and to report

                    to the Congress                   the manner in which                    Federal     departments        and agencies

                    carry            out the laws enacted                 by the Congress.                The Congress           in establish-

                    ing the General                   Accounting             Office,     recognized         that    the Office         would

                    need to have.complete                           access       to the records          of the Federal           agencies,

                    and. provided.the                  basic         authority         in section        313 of the Budget             and

                    Accounting            Act,        1921,         (31 U.S.C.         53, 54) as follows:

                                 "All departments       and establishments    shall furnish       to the
                                 Comptroller      General such information     regarding      the powers,
                                 duties,   activities,     organization,   financial     transactions,
                                 and methods of business of their respective             offices    as he
          may from time   to time                     require    of them; and the Comptroller,
          or any of his   assistants                       or employees, when duly authorized
          by him, shall,    for the                     purpose of securing   such information,
          have access to and the                        right  to examine any books, documents,
          papers,  or records of                      any such department    or establishment.”

          GAO auditors,                like    all     auditors,           have to some degree               always

encountered               problems       in obtaining                 access    to records         and information,

These are              “occupational           hazards”          but we usually               have been able          to

resolve           most of our problems                      without       undue difficulty,              However,          in our

reviews           of military          assistance              programs,        we have encountered              increasing

difficulties               in obtaining              information           needed to effectively               evaluate

and report              on the administration                    of these          programs.        During     the past

year      or so a number of our audit                            assignments           involving        the foreign

assistance              programs       have been hampered                   and delayed          with    the result

that      we have had to some extent                            curtail        the    scope of      the audit,         in

effect          being      precluded          from     fully       carrying          out our     responsibilities               in

these          cases.

          It      is    not practical           to raise           the day-to-day             access     problems          to

the      level         of formal       top requests              and denials          9 and we have no evidence

that      any of the situations                      we have encountered                 involve.the         exercise

of executive              privilege,            Absolute           denial       of access        to a document             is

quite          rare,      Our reviews           are hampered               and delayed         more by the time-

consuming              delaying      tactics          employed          by the various          organizational              elements

within          and between          the Departments                  of Defense        and State        in screening

records          and in deciding               whether          such records           are    releasable       to the

General          Accounting        Office.             It     is not unusual            for    our auditors         to request

access          to a document            at an overseas                 location       and be required           to wait

      .         .                     l                                               0
          several     weeks while         such documents     are    screened     up the channels        from

          the overseas      posts     and through      the hierarchy       of the Departments           of,

          Defense     and State.

                Our experience            in making   a study      of the Military      Assistance

          Training     Program      at the request      of the Chairman,          Senate    Committee

          on Foreign      Re l&t ions , is an example           of the problems       we have en-

          countered      in obtaining        access   to information.          In our     report   to the

,iJ       Chairman     on this      study    in February     1971 we summarized           our problems

      with      access     to records        and set forth       the following       conclusion,       which

          we believe      points     up the problems        of access     to records       and the effect

          of these     problems      on our ability        to carry     out effective       reviews.

                       “During    our’ review of the training       program on behalf
                of the Senate Foreign Relations.Committee,               representatives
                of the Departments        of Defense and State have withheld             or
                delayed the release of MAP reports           and records essential          to
                a full     and complete review and evaluation          of this program
                which is financed       by considerable     appropriated      funds.      The
                access-to-records       problems experienced       by our staffs       during
                this review are a continuation          of similar     problems the GAO
                has encountered       over the years in reviewing         DOD programs,
                particularly      evaluations   of military    assistance       programs.

                       .“While   the DOD has taken the position           in the past that
                future    planning     information      is not releasable     to GAO because
                it is subject       to change , we do not believe         that the DOD com-
                ponents should use this position               to deny our access to such
                information      as the operational         status and capabilities    of MAP
                recipient      countries’      forces merely because it is included        as
                a part of future          planning   information.

                        ItWe believe   further  that the denial of access to routine
                reportsprepared        by MAAG personnel   in the performance   of ad-
                visory     functions,    on the basis that they are evaluative    in
                nature,      is unreasonable.    The type of data and reports    with-
                held from us during this review are necessary           in our examina-
                tion of the program as well as our review and evaluation            of

       the administration    of the program by the MAAGs and by other
       DOD element sm In our opinion,       it is essential    for us to have
       access to all papers,    records,    and data which are available
       to those DOD personnel    who make the program decisions       in or-
       der that we can ascertain      how their    decisions were made and
       whether all available    pertinent     data was considered   in reach-
       ing the decisions.

                “The denial of our access to the CINCPAC program evalua-
       tion group reports      also impaired our review of this program.
       In carrying     out its statutory    audit responsibilities,        GAO
       gives due regard to the effectiveness         of the internal       audit
       of an agency, such as the MAP audits        performed by the CINCPAC
       activity     and other DOD groups,     In conducting      our audits on
       behalf of the Congress , we make use of internal             audit reports
       and other internal      evaluations   and perform such independent
       tests of the records as we feel to be justified              under the

                “If we are permitted      extensive       use of internal     audits  and
       other evaluative        reports 3 we are able to concentrate            a greater
       part of our efforts         in determining      whether action has been
       properly     taken by responsible       officials,      on the basis of the
       facts presented       in these reports       and evaluations,       to correct
       identified      program weaknesses0        This also helps to eliminate
       duplication      and overlapping      in audit effort,       and promotes full
       utilization      of existing    audit and investigative          data.,

            “We believe   that this access-to-records   problem involves
      a matter that critically      affects our future ability    to con-
      duct on behalf of the Congress thorough and complete reviews
      of the MllP. In order for GAO to carry out its legal. author-
      ity to make independent     reviews of MM?, it must have access
      to and make appropriate     review and analysis  of all DOD re-
      ports and records which evidence the expenditure         of appropri-
      ated funds.

             “We believe         further    that these objectives        can be achieved
      if the Secretary           of Defense will       refrain    from issuing   guide-
      lines which have the effect               of limiting      our reviews and will
      instead,     instruct        DOD subordinate      commands to take a more
      cooperative,        flexible,      and realistic       approach in the release
      of data.and       information       requested     by GAO in future      MAP reviews.”

      In early     1970, we undertook       a review     of the LJ,Sb Assistance           to the

Philippine    Government     in   support   of the Philippine        Civic   Action       Group at

the request      of the Chairman,      Subcommittee      on LJ,S, Security      Agreements      and
Commitments         Abroad,     Committee    on Foreign      Relations,      U. S. Senate.         The

Departments         of State     and Defense     delayed     our work on this        assignment

to the extent         that     we had to curtail       the scope of our review              and

qualify       our   report     to the Chairman.        Appendix     II    to our   report     to the

Chairman        (B-168501,      dated   June 1, 1970)      set forth       our problems       as


                                “ACCESS-TO-RECORDS DIFFICULTIES

                 “We were unable to complete our work and report              on this
          assignment   within    a reasonable      time because of the time-
          consuming screening       process exercised       by the Departments     of
          State and Defense before making records available               for our
          examination.      Our work was seriously        hampered and delayed
          by the reluctance      of the Departments       to give us access to
          the documents,      papers, and records which we considered           per-
          tinent   to our review.       In general,    we were given access to
          only those documents,        papers , and records which we were
          able to specifically       identify     and request,    and then we were
          given access only after         time-consuming     sc’reening at various
          levels within     the Departments.

                   “Members of our staff           were required     to wait for periods
          of 2 weeks to 2 months to look at some documents they had
          requested      and frequently         the documents proved to be of
          little     value for our purposes.               We were also restricted         by
          ground rules established              unilaterally      by the Departments
          that effectively          limited     our review in the field            to the
          Departments       very narrow interpretation             of what it judged to
          be the scope of our review.                 This was perhaps the most re-
          strictive      limitation       placed on our work, and it completely
          frustrated       our attempts       to review assistance            to the Philip-
          pines that was not funded in the military                    functions      appro-

                 “Our audit staff   members in the field    were1 advised that
          documents which they requested      that were releaseable       to us
          under the restrictions     of the so-called   ground rules had to
          be dispatched    to Washington for departmental     cl,earance.     By
          early May 1970, only four of 12 documents which were re-
          quested by our staff    members on January 28, 1970, had been
          released   to them in Manila.

                   “Our letter     to the Secretary       of Defense *** which is
           similar     to a letter      that .we addressed to the !Secretary     of
           ‘State, illustrates        one of our many attempts       to reso?.ve our
           access-to-records         problems,     The reply from DOD *** char-
           acterizes,     in our opinion,       the attitude     of DOD during our

                   “Although we have been able to obtain      sufficient     infor-
           mation upon which to base this report,       we are not certain
           that we have the full       story, In view of the restricted         ac-
           cess to record.s,   there is the possibility     that the agencies
           may have withheld     information  which is pertinent       to our

           Following        our   review      in the Philippines             we initiated       a study      of

United        States     assistance         to the Government           of Thailand,           In an attempt

to avoid           the conditions          previously      experienced,          the Comptroller

General           on June 26,       1970, wrote         to the    Secretaries        of Defense      and State

citing        the problems         experienced          in the Philippines           review,     requesting

that       they     eliminate      the necessity          for    the   lengthy      screening     process,

and citing           the scope and authority               for    our review       as follows:

           “***the    scope of our review will           be broad enough to permit
           our representatives         to investigate       all matters      concerning
           the receipt,       disbursement,      and application       of public      funds
           related    in any way to our rclatj.ons            with the Government of
           Thai land D Pursuant        to the authority        of Section 313 of the
           Budget and Accounting          Act of 1921, 31 U,‘S,C. 54, representa-
           tives of the General Accounting             Office     will  be requesting
           officials    in your Department for access to, and when we con-
           sider necessary , copies of any books, documents,                   papers, or
           records in the custody or control              of your Department wh-ich
           we believe     may contain      information      regarding     the powers,
           duties,   activities,       organization,      financial     transactions,
           and methods of business related             to the scope of,the         review.”

           Unfortunately,          we have experienced             similar       problems      in obtaining

access       to documents          required      for    our review         of assistance        to Thailand,

           In connection          with     processing      our    report      on the Review of the

Military          Assistance       Training      Program        mentioned      earlier,     the Special

    Assistant     to the Assistant      Secretary    of Defenses       International         Security

    Affairs,    in a letter     dated   September    25, 1970,       stated:

           “.SLmiLarly,     the Department of Defense cannot permit to
           go unchallenged        that section of the report concerning
           complaints     that the GAO auditors          were hindered and de-
            layed in their      efforts    because the Department of Defense
           had denied them access ta 5 year MAP planning                 data and to
           inspection     and evaluation       reports    known as PEG reports.
           Apart from the fact that custom, tradition                and precedent
           have decreed that information             of such internal     nature
           will   not be disclosed       outside     the Executive    Branch in
           order to preserve’the         confidentiality       of the relation-
           ship of superior         and subordinate,      an understanding      was
           also reached a number of years ago between the General
           Accounting     Office     and the Department of Defense whereby
           planning     da& and inspector         type reports    would not be
           provided,      The Department       is, therefore,     both surprised
           and chagrined       over the fact that the GAO would endeavor
           to make such an issue over these specific                categories,     an
           issue which had been resolved             years agoa”
           A copy of this      Department    of Defense     letter     was sent        to the Chair-

    man of the Committee        by the Department,

           In transmitting our report to the Chairman the Comptroller   General
                .                                                                                             .
    took   note of this Department of Defense letter and advised as follows:

                  “In regard to the Department’s         position   concerning
           the access-to-records     matters     discus.sed in the report,
           the General Accounting     Office     has never reached such an
           understanding    with the Department of Defense.           To the
           contrary,    we have always maintained        that we are entitled
           by law to have access to, and the right             to examine, all
           records of the Department       of Defense and its component
           commands that we consider       pertinent     to the matter or
           subject   under review.

                  “The inspection    and evaluation     reports referred  to
           in the Department of Defense letter          are management reports
           prepared by a program evaluation         group of the Unified
           Command Beadquarters,        We have always regarded complete
           access to reports      of this type as necessary     in order for
           us to carry out the responsibilities          we have to the
           Congress .‘I

            The policy             of the executive                  branch , with          respect        to release             of

information                 to the Congress,                 was set       forth      by the President                    in a         .

Memorandum to the Heads of Executive                                       Departments            and Agencies,              on

March 24,                1969, as follows:

                 “The policy      of this Administration            is to comply to
         the fullest       ,extent possible      with Congressional         requests
         for information.          While the Executive          Branch has the
         responsibility         of withholding      certain     information     the
         disclosure       of which.would       be incompatible.with         the public
         interest.        This Administration         will   invoke this authority
         only in the most compelling             circumstances        and after    a
         rigorous      inquiry    into the actual         need for its exercise.
         For those reasons Executive             privilege      will   not be used
         without     specific     Presidential      approval.”

         Although                the Departments               of State       and Defense            indicate             in their

directives                that     it      is    their      policy      to provide          maximum cooperation                     and

assistance                to the General                  Accounting       Office,        we have found              it     quite

difficult                to obtain          the information,             which       we need to conduct                    our

reviews            relating             to foreign          assistance        activities.

            In our discussions                      with     departmental            officials,           they   have frequently

stated            that      the documents                 or information           being     withheld         are not re-

leasable             to the GAO because                     of one or more of the following                               reasons:

            (1)          review,         examination,           or disclosure             would      seriously

                         impair         relations          between      the United          States        and other

                         countries,             or otherwise           prejudice        the best          interest          of
                         the United             States,

            (2)          access         to documents           including         information          and debates

                         used in formulating                   policy      decisions         would        seriously
                         hamper a candid                  exchange      of views        within       the agency,             and
                                     0                                                    0

        (3)     access     to information             on future      planning     would   not be

                appropriate          because     it     has not received        the approval

                of the President            or been presented            to the Congress.

        Notwithstanding         our difficulties                in the past     we will       continue      to

press    for    information          we think         is necessary     for    us to have in order            to

carry    out our     responsibilities.                    ,,
        Mr.    Chairman,      this       concludes       our prepared        statement.        Mr,   Duff

and I will       be glad      to answer         questians.