The House of Representatives passed a bill to strengthen the GAO (HR 6388) Tuesday by voice vote (meaning votes against it weren't recorded). The bill would give the GAO the ability to sue federal agencies for documents and to interview federal employees under oath. The GAO acts as the investigative arm of Congress and has dug into everything from mine safety to the lack of a post-surge plan in Iraq.
According to the statement from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the bill's language on the GAO's authority to obtain records would "repudiate" a 2002 court decision. That decision dismissed a lawsuit by former GAO comptroller David Walker to force Vice President Dick Cheney to name the people involved in an energy task force Cheney led in 2001. The bill has specific language that directs courts to "recognize the continuing force and effect" of the GAO's authorization to obtain such records through lawsuits.
The Senate hasn't introduced similar legislation, but the House bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for consideration. Leslie Phillips, the communications director for Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), wrote in an e-mail to us that "we are looking into the bill, but have no comment beyond that since we just got it."
We wondered about the White House's stance on the bill. They haven't responded to our requests for comment. But the White House did oppose an earlier bill that would have expanded GAO powers. That bill (HR 5683) progressed in the Senate with those provisions stripped out of it. It has yet to reach the floor for a vote.