This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
In the United States,3 the direct control of the money is in the hands of the executive officers, subject to the orders of Congress. The safeguards consist in making the processes of expenditure complicated and subjecting each item to the scrutiny of several sets of executive officers.
1 See Wilson, The State, pp. 696-698.
2 Cf. Bastable, p. 705.
8 See Re nick and Thompson, Political Science Quarterly, VI., 248-281, and VII., 468-482.
The idea of the original plan in the United States was not to allow of issues to the regular disbursing officers, but to control expenditure by a careful scrutiny of the accounts or claims rendered. The Treasury was to be reached only after the claims had been cut down to the lowest possible figure. Claims against the government were first passed upon by an auditor, then by a comptroller, either of whom might reject them. Then the Secretary drew a warrant upon the Treasurer, and that warrant was recorded by the Register and countersigned by the Comptroller. Hamilton found it necessary, for the sake of economy, to pay cash for many things needed by the government, and hence this original plan broke down. Issues were made to disbursing officers, and the necessary warrants were drawn for each particular item of expenditure, afterward, in order to legalise the transaction.
For many years the United States had a very complicated system of audit, control, and record. There were six Auditors, so called, and the " Commissioner of the General Land Office," who was Auditor for the lands account. Then there were three Comptrollers, known as the First and Second Comptrollers, and the Commissioner of the Customs. Lastly there was the Register. All of these were assisted by a large body of clerks. These offices were organised into four coordinate branches, with separate jurisdiction. Accounts were first examined and passed upon by an Auditor, then re-examined by a Comptroller. Claims disallowed by these officers could be pushed in the Court of Claims and appealed from there to the Supreme Court. The assignment of accounts to the different Auditors and Comptrollers was almost arbitrary and with little system. The First Auditor looked over the general income and expense accounts of the Treasury, the special accounts of the customs receipts, the expenditures for the legislative and executive departments, special accounts of the Treasury department, — as of the interstate commerce commission, of the public debt, of engraving and printing, of the coast and geodetic survey, of the life-saving service, of the lighthouse establishment, of the public buildings, of the government of territories, of the District of Columbia, of the central administrative departments of War, Navy, the Interior, etc., of the departments of Labour and of Agriculture, and all the expenditure for the Judiciary. The Second Auditor had the accounts from the Indian Service and the Army. The Third Auditor had the pension account. The Fourth had the accounts of the Navy. The Fifth looked over the accounts of the Collector of the Internal Revenues. The Sixth was for the postal accounts. The First Comptroller then revised the accounts that were assigned to the First and Fifth Auditors, except the Customs account, for which the Commissioner of the Customs was Comptroller, and those of the Commissioner of the General Land Office. The Second Comptroller had the accounts of the Second, Third, and Fourth Auditors.
All of this has recently been changed. " The act of July 31, 1894, making appropriations for the legislative, executive, and judicial expenses of the Government for the fiscalyear ending June 30, 1895, altered the accounting offices of the Treasury and changed materially the system of accounting. The detail revision of accounts here to fore made by the First Comptroller, as well as by the Second Comptroller and the Commissioner of Customs, is abolished, as are the offices of the Second Comptroller and the Commissioner of Customs, the First Comptroller being made the sole Comptroller of the Treasury. A revision of accounts under the new system will only be made when either the head of a Department or the claimant is dissatisfied with the settlement of an account by an Auditor, or when the Comptroller himself has reason to believe that any particular account ought to be subjected to a second revision. Much labour will be saved by this system, and the adjustment of accounts ought to be greatly expedited. It is believed this will be accomplished without danger of mistake or loss to the government. It is one of the duties of the First Comptroller to ' countersign all warrants drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury which shall be warranted by law.' This duty will continue with the Comptroller of the Treasury under the new system. As the Secretary of the Treasury has the duty devolved upon him of originating warrants, and as all such warrants must be countersigned by the Comptroller, no warrant finally becomes effective without their concurrent action."1
There are now six Auditors: (1) for the Treasury Department, (2) for the War, (3) for the Interior, (4) for the Navy, (5) for the State, etc., (6) for the Post Office. The accounts are still distributed in the old arbitrary unsystematic fashion among the different Auditors according to the illogical scheme by which the different duties are divided among the Departments.2 It is hard to see how this can be bettered until the work of the Departments is rearranged. The recent change is a great gain in the direction of simplicity and speed. The Auditor's work stands unless appealed to the Comptroller, and is no longer necessarily gone over again by a comptroller.
The Register keeps ledger accounts with all appropriations made by Congress, and also keeps all the personal disbursement and receipt accounts pertaining to the customs, internal revenue, diplomatic, treasury, judiciary, interior, civil services, and the public debt. General receipt and expenditure ledgers have been kept running from the foundation of the government.
1 Finance Report, 1894, pp. 836, 837.
2 See Wilson, The State, pp. 567-570.
The Register furnishes to the proper accounting officers copies of all warrants covering proceeds of government property, where the same may be necessary in the settlement of accounts in their respective offices. He also furnishes certificates of balances, advances, and repayments to the offices of the First and Fifth Auditors, for settlements of accounts, and certifies to the First Comptroller, on requisitions for advances, the net indebtedness of disbursing agents as shown by the ledgers.1 The Treasury Department itself exercises a pretty extensive supervision over expenditures.
1 Finance Report, 1894, p. 737.