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H.R. 72: GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017

Jan 17, 2017 at 4:43 p.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the Senate.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 72 (115th) in the Senate.

The second bill President Trump ever signed into law is Public Law 115–3, the GAO Access and Oversight Act.

(The first bill Trump signed — which GovTrack Insider previously covered — was a one-page waiver allowing James Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense, despite not having yet been out of the military for seven years as the law usually requires. Mattis was later approved by the Senate 98–1.)

What the law does

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent government agency that analyzes and investigates federal expenditures. They often produce reports known as “blue books” that analyze congressional spending policies and make recommendations, as well as perform policy analyses and audit federal agencies.

The law is short. Its primary change allows the GAO to obtain federal agency records, for purposes of audit or investigation. And if an agency or department still refuses to cooperate, the law makes it easier for the GAO to file a civil action in court to obtain the records or documents.

The law also allows the GAO access to the federal National Directory of New Hires, which it had been blocked from accessing for years. A press release from the Republican Senate lead sponsor noted that this new access could improve GAO oversight over federal programs including unemployment insurance, student loans, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program often popularly referred to as “food stamps.”

Those three programs often draw the ire of Republicans, but Congress members generally support the GAO across party lines because it helps to fulfill checks and balances between branches of government

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA1) as H.R. 72 in the House, and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) as S. 17 in the Senate.

Who supports it

Supporters say the bill will increase transparency and efficiency by bolstering one of the few nonpartisan agencies tasked with ensuring government accountability.

“GAO is one of the most important tools used in this fight and the agency must have access to federal agency records to fully audit government programs. Unfortunately, even though GAO has the statutory right to inspect agency records, some federal agencies fail to cooperate and block the GAO from doing its job for Congress and the American people,” House lead sponsor Carter said in a statement. “My legislation ensures federal agencies cooperate with GAO so they are able to access what is necessary to conduct their investigations.”

Senate lead sponsor Sasse’s office said in a press release, “Last March, GAO was unable to comply with Senator Sasse’s request to audit school lunch programs to ensure that assistance was targeted to kids who needed it most.” That inability would presumably no longer be possible under this new law.

The congressional votes

The bill passed in the House only a day after it was introduced, by a voice vote where individual votes aren’t recorded. While we don’t know the individual House votes, a version of the legislation passed the previous House by a unanimous 404–0, though it never received a vote in the Senate at the time. This year’s version passed the Senate unanimously 99–0, after attracting 18 cosponsors: 12 Republicans and six Democrats.


All Votes R D I
Yea 99%
Nay 0%
Not Voting 1%

Bill Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source:

The Yea votes represented 100% of the country’s population by apportioning each state’s population to its voting senators.

Ideology Vote Chart

Key: R Yea D Yea
Seat position based on our ideology score.

What you can do

Vote Details

Notes: “Aye” or “Yea”?
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Statistically Notable Votes

Statistically notable votes are the votes that are most surprising, or least predictable, given how other members of each voter’s party voted and other factors.

All Votes