List of GAO Finalists Goes to White House

Posted March 23, 2010 at 5:36pm

Updated: 6:47 p.m.

The search for the next leader of the Government Accountability Office entered the home stretch Tuesday, as Democratic leaders announced that they sent the White House their list of recommended candidates.

House and Senate leaders have forwarded four names to President Barack Obama: former Assistant Comptroller General Ira Goldstein, acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes.

But the letter sent to President Barack Obama was notably missing the signatures of the Republican members of the Congressional commission tasked with selecting suitable candidates. The reason: Republicans think Bilmes is too partisan to take over Congress’ nonpartisan watchdog agency.

Instead, it is signed only by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.).

“The Commission has been working in earnest on this undertaking for more than one year and has dedicated considerable time and effort to present you with highly qualified candidates for this important position,” the letter reads. “The presented individuals are recommended by the undersigned majority of Commission members.”

It has been two years since David Walker resigned as comptroller general to take a job in the private sector. Since then, former Chief Operating Officer Gene Dodaro has been running the agency as acting comptroller general, overseeing about 3,000 analysts to investigate everything from defense programs to the Recovery Act.

Now that Congress has sent a list of recommended candidates for the job, Obama can either nominate someone from the list or someone of his own choosing. His nomination is then subject to Senate confirmation.

But the selection may be complicated by Republican charges that the search process was partisan. Bilmes, they say, has a history of contributing to Democratic causes and is less qualified than other candidates. But Democrats point to recommendations from two former Bush appointees and qualifications such as her tenure as chief financial officer of the Department of Commerce.

In a statement Tuesday, Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) condemned the decision to put Bilmes on the list.

“President Obama has a choice to make — he can either follow the unfortunate and partisan path put forward by Congressional Democrats and nominate an ideologue like Linda Bilmes or he can uphold GAO’s appropriate role as a nonpartisan and neutral broker,” he said. “At the end of the day, the politicization of the GAO will be met with hostility and will not withstand Senate confirmation.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also condemned Democrats on
Tuesday for sending a list to the White House without Republican support.

“We have had several exceptionally qualified individuals apply to be the
next leader of the GAO, and it should have been possible to come up with a
consensus list,” said Collins, whose committee will vet Obama’s eventual
nominee. “As Congress’ fiscal watchdog, the next comptroller general must
assume the responsibilities of the office with a completely nonpartisan
attitude. Given the fiscal challenges that our nation will confront during
the 15-year term of the next comptroller general, the nominee ultimately
chosen by the president must demonstrate, by both word and deed, that
partisanship has no place at the GAO. “