By Susan Crabtree - 11/04/09 11:00 AM EST
Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) is interviewing for the position of comptroller general of the United States, the top post at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Platts is one of 18 candidates who have applied for the position, according to a congressional source and a letter Platts sent to a congressional commission that selects candidates for the job and forwards their names to the president, who makes the final choice.
It is rare for a sitting member of Congress to apply for the comptroller general position, but the agency has taken on greater importance in recent years during the country’s economic crisis and throughout two expensive wars.
Acting Comptroller General Gene Louis Dodaro has been serving in the position since March of last year, when the previous head, David Walker, stepped down to take a position at the Peter G. Foundation. Walker appointed Dodaro, a well-liked career GAO employee who previously served as the chief operating officer, the agency’s second in command, to replace him.
Dodaro has thrown his hat in the ring for the permanent job but may not ascend to the top spot despite his experience. The president has never chosen someone from inside the agency. Dodaro will remain in the position until the president nominates and the Senate confirms Walker’s successor from a list of at least three candidates chosen by the congressional commission.
The search for the new comptroller began in April, but it could take months for the commission to select a list of nominees to send to the president. Both Platts and Dodaro face a crowded field of contenders, among them Rhode Island Auditor General Ernie Almonte, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and former Assistant Comptroller General Ira Goldstein.
A five-term Republican, Platt’s south-central Pennsylvania district is considered safe territory for the GOP if he should be selected for the position. In 2008, Platts won reelection with nearly 67 percent of the vote.
Platts, an attorney and former state legislator, did not say why he was interested in giving up his House seat and moving over to Congress’s top watchdog. His office did not respond to inquiries about his interest in the position.
The agency, which has been called the “U.S. taxpayer’s best friend” for its work ferreting out government waste and abuse, has more than 3,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $500 million. Members of Congress can order GAO audits and investigations of different federal government programs and agencies, which the agency regularly oversees on its own. The comptroller general has a non-renewable term of 15 years and can only be removed by an act of Congress, which has never happened in the GAO’s 88-year history.
In the mid-1990s, Republicans criticized the agency as bloated and biased, but in the past 10 years, it’s become a more powerful player under the leadership of Walker, a vocal fiscal conservative known for his sometimes harsh oversight of government spending and shuttering of GAO field offices he regarded as unnecessary.
In the letter to the commission, Platts said his decision to seek the GAO post was “not made lightly or in haste” but only after “careful and thoughtful deliberation.”
“I am seeking this appointment because I am certain that I can provide the GAO with strong and effective leadership that will enhance its relationship with Congress and thereby make federal government operations more open, accountable and efficient for the benefit of all Americans,” he said.
Platts also highlighted his work as the former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government management, finance and accountability, which he said would provide an “exceptional foundation for fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of comptroller general.”
And he emphasized his ability to work in a nonpartisan way with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Towns also served as the ranking member on the subcommittee on government management when Platts was its chairman.
Working alongside Towns and “hand in hand with the GAO,” Platts said the subcommittee conducted more than 50 oversight hearings during the four years he served as its chairman.
The GAO was created in 1921. There have only been seven comptrollers general, including just two former member of Congress, former Sen. Fred Brown (D-N.H.), who served just one year from 1939 to 1940 and left due to illness, and former Rep. Lindsay Warren, an eight-term Democrat from North Carolina. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed both of them.
Besides Towns, members of the commission include: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), in his capacity as president pro tempore of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the ranking member of that panel, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), as well as House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).