The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the non-partisan audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, and an agency in the Legislative Branch of the United States Government. The GAO was established as the General Accounting Office by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 (Pub.L. 67-13, 42 Stat. 20, June 10, 1921). This Act required the head of GAO to "investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President...and to Congress...reports (and) recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures" (Sec. 312(a), 42 Stat. 25). According to GAO's current mission statement, the agency exists to support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. The name was changed in 2004 to better reflect the mission of the office.
The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a non-partisan position in the U.S. Government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 15-year, non-renewable term. The President selects a nominee from a list of at least three individuals recommended by an 8 member bi-partisan, bicameral commission of congressional leaders. The Comptroller General may not be removed by the President, but only by Congress through impeachment or joint resolution for specific reasons. Since 1921, there have been only 7 Comptrollers General, and no formal attempt has ever been made to remove a Comptroller General. The long tenure of the Comptroller General and the manner of appointment and removal gives GAO a continuity of leadership and independence that is rare within government.