|The accounting system of the U.S. Government evolved from the experiences of fiscal accountability under the Continental Congresses and the Articles of Confederation. The Standing Committee of the Treasury (later known as the Board of Treasury) was appointed on February 17, 1776, to examine accounts and to superintend the general finances of the Government and of officers engaged in handling public moneys. Six auditors were among the officials appointed to assist the Board of Treasury. An act of September 11, 1781, abolished these positions and replaced them with a Treasurer, Comptroller, Register, Auditors, and clerks.
The act of September 2, 1789, (1 Stat. 65), which established the Treasury Department under the Constitution of the United States, provided specifically for three accounting officers: a Register, a Comptroller, an Auditor. The Register kept the central fiscal records (including ledgers and journals), filed all settled accounts and claims, and prepared annual reports for Congress summarizing receipts and expenditures of the Government as reflected by the official balances. The Auditor settled all accounts and claims, subject to the approval of the Comptroller. The Comptroller examined the settled accounts and claims, certified their balances, and sent them back to the Register. The 1789 act also provided for a Treasurer, who was responsible for the receipt and disbursement of public funds. In addition to the duties described here briefly, these officers also performed various other functions related to the accounting for public funds.
From 1792 to 1816, three additional officers were established to assist the original accounting officers. On May 8, 1792, the Office of the Accountant for the War Department (predecessor of the Second Auditor) was established (1 Stat. 279). The Office of the Accountant for the Navy Department (predecessor of the Fourth Auditor) was created on July 16, 1798 (1 Stat. 610), and the Office of the Additional Accountant for the War Department was created on April 29, 1816 (3 Stat. 322)
On March 3, 1817, a major reorganization of the accounting officers took place (3 Stat.366). The Comptroller of the Treasury was designated the First Comptroller and became responsible for civil expenditures only; the Second Comptroller was established to perform similar functions for military expenditures. The Auditor was designated the First Auditor and was made responsible for settling most civil accounts and claims. The Accountant for the War Department, the Additional Accountant for the War Department, and the Accountant for the Navy Department were designated the Second, Third, and Fourth Auditors, respectively. The Second Auditor settled accounts for pay and contingent expenses of the Army, the Third Auditor settled all other accounts of the War Department, and the Fourth Auditor settled accounts of the Navy Department. A Fifth Auditor was also established at this time to settle accounts of the State Department and of the Post Office Department and accounts of Indian affairs.
At various times between 1817 and 1894, changes were made in the specific areas of responsibility of the accounting officers. These changes are noted in this preliminary inventory in the introductory remarks for each Office. Two additional offices were also created. The Sixth Auditor was established by an act of July 2, 1835 (5 Stat. 80), to relieve the Fifth Auditor of responsibility for settling accounts of the Post Office Department. Finally, the Office of the Commissioner of Customs was created by an act of March 3, 1849 (9 Stat. 396a), and assumed the duties that the First Comptroller had performed for accounts and claims related directly to customs receipts and expenditures. The Commissioner of Customs became, in effect, a "third comptroller."
In 1894 the accounting oficers were reorganized primarily as a result of the recommendations of the Dockery-Cockrell Commission, which had been established in 1893 to investigate and report to Congress on the organization and operations of the executive departments. The changes in the Treasury Department were incorporated in the Dockery Act of July 31, 1894 (28 Stat. 205). The Dockery Act abolished the Offices of the First Comptroller, Second Comptroller, and Commissioner of Customs and simultaneously created the Office of Comptroller of the Treasury, to which the functions of the three former Offices were transferred. The auditors were renamed the Auditor of the Treasury Department, Auditor for the War Department, Auditor for the Interior Department, Auditor for the Navy Department, Auditor for the State and other Departments, and Auditor for the Post Office Department. The functions of the auditors were, as necessary, shifted to conform to the areas of responsibility indicated by their new titles. Most of the functions previously performed by the Register were transferred to the newly established Division of Bookkeeping and Warrants in the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury.
In 1921 the accounting offices were abolished. The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 transferred the responsibility for fiscal accountability of Government funds from the Treasury Department to the newly created U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO, headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, is part of the legislative branch of the Government.
The records described in this inventory consist of records of the accounting offices of the Treasury Department, 1789-1921, that were in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as of December 31, 1979. They also include some pre-Federal records created under the Continental Congresses and Articles of Confederation as well as some records of the GAO that are direct continuations of series begun under the Treasury Department. These records are part of the body of records designated Records of the U.S. General Accounting Office, Record Group (RG) 217, and total approximately 23,000 cubic feet.
Some records that originated in the accounting offices but document functions subsequently transferred to other administrative units of the Treasury Department in or before 1921 are not included in this inventory. A primary example is the appropriation ledgers that were transferred from the Office of the Register to the Division of Bookkeeping and Warrants in 1894 and are now part of Records of the Bureau of Accounts (Treasury), RG 39. The records of the Sixth Auditor (Auditor for the Post Office Department) are in Records of the U.S. Postal Service, RG 28. Although nominally an official of the Treasury Department, the Sixth Auditor reported directly to the Postmaster General.
Records closely related to those described in this inventory are found in other record groups in the custody of NARA. Registers and indexes for warrants and the original surety bonds of accountable officers are in RG 39. Many records of the Office of the Register relating to the public debt are in Records of the Bureau of the Public Debt, RG 53. Case files of the Southern Claims Commission claims rejected by Congress are in Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233. Most records relating to expenses of the District of Columbia are in Records of the Government of the District of Columbia, RG 351.
Other closely related records may be found in Records of the U.S. Customs Service, RG 36; Records of the Treasurer of the United States, RG 50; General Records of the Department of the Treasury, RG 56; Records of teh Internal Revenue Service, RG 58; and Records of the Bureau of the Mint, RG 104. Related records for the pre-Federal period are in Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, RG 360. Related accounting records are often found also among the records of individual Government agencies.
The inventory is divided into nine parts, one for each of the major accounting offices of the Treasury Department. Within each office, the records are described, in so far as possible, by the divisions that originated the records or that were responsible, as of 1894, for the functions to which the records relate.