It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to discuss the Federal government's energy policy, in particular its oil and gas policies. I can't imagine a place or group more appropriate than Texas and the Society of Petroleum Engineers. I presume you already have some opinions of your own on the subject.

Certainly, all of us here today agree that petroleum products are central to any discussion of the nation's energy situation. They supply two-thirds of the country's energy. It was the oil embargo in 1973 that touched off the so-called energy crisis. In 1977, a natural gas shortage closed hundreds of factories and schools in the northeast and Midwest.

In my discussion today, I will focus briefly on three areas:

  1. The role of the General Accounting Office in analyzing energy programs and policies.

  2. The status of energy policy and program development in the Federal Government.

  3. The results of several GAO reviews that may be of specific interest to the group.

The Role of GAO

The General Accounting Office is an independent and nonpartisan agency of Congress. That is, we work for Congress, not for the executive branch. Much of our independence stems from the nature of the Comptroller General's appointment - GAO's top official. He is appointed for 15 years and cannot be reappointed. Once in office, he can be removed only by a process similar to impeachment.

GAO assists members of Congress by evaluating the policies and programs of Federal agencies. About one-third of our projects come from direct Congressional requests, usually from committees rather than individual members. The remaining two-thirds are self-initiated, based on our own assessment of key problems.

The end result of our analysis most often is a report to the Congress. Many of you may be familiar with our blue covered reports. These reports represent months, and sometimes years, of work investigating and evaluating a problem. Where possible, we make specific recommendations to correct problems identified. I am sure that where you are familiar with our reports, you sometimes like and agree with our recommendation. On other occasions, you may disagree. In any event, our job is to be objective and to call the shots the way we see them.

To fulfill its duties, GAO has a total staff of 5,000. Nearly half are in field offices. Fifteen regional offices in the United States and four overseas keep the GAO personnel close to the grass roots of Federal programs.

GAO is often referred to as the Government's Watchdog, a function you as taxpayers should appreciate. Years ago in 1921, when Congress established the agency, GAO essentially performed a central voucher audit for the Government. Today, less than 10 percent of our time is spent on fiscal and accounting matters. Our efforts are instead directed toward: How can the government reduce waste and inefficiency? Are government programs achieving their objectives? Are there better, alternative ways to achieve these objectives? And in a bigger sense, have we chosen the correct objectives and the best means to accomplish them?

I should underline one thing, GAO does not make Government policy. That is the job of Congress, the President, and the executive branch agencies. What GAO can do is influence program and policies by doing high quality analysis and issuing convincing reports. The degree of our influence ties directly to our ability to develop useful information and to derive sensible recommendations.

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