In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided April 19, 1983

Justice O’Connor, For the Court

Topic: Judicial Power*Court vote: 7–2
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Joining O'Connor opinion: Justice BRENNAN Justice BRENNAN Chief Justice BURGER Chief Justice BURGER Justice POWELL Justice POWELL Justice REHNQUIST Justice REHNQUIST
Joining opinion in part: Justice MARSHALL Justice MARSHALL Justice WHITE Justice WHITE
Citation: 460 U.S. 824 Docket: 81–1273Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before the Court is the scope of the authority of the Comptroller General of the United States to examine the records of a private contractor with whom the Government has entered into fixed-price [ Footnote 1 ] negotiated contracts. We conclude that, under the circumstances presented in this action, the Comptroller General may inspect the contractor's records of direct costs, but not records of indirect costs.


In 1973, Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck), entered into three contracts with the Defense Supply Agency of the Department of Defense and one contract with the Veterans' Administration for the sale of pharmaceutical products to the Government. All four contracts were negotiated, rather than awarded after formal advertising. [ Footnote 2 ] The pharmaceutical products supplied under each contract were standard commercial products sold by Merck in substantial quantities to the general public. App. 41a. The price term proposed by Merck for each contract was based on the catalog price at which Merck sold the item to the general public or was otherwise determined by adequate competition. Before the award of each of the contracts at the fixed price proposed by Merck, there was no actual negotiation of price, and the Government contracting officers did not request Merck to submit cost data in connection with any of the four contracts.

As required by 10 U.S.C. § 2313(b) and 65 Stat. 700, 41 U.S.C. § 254(c), [ Footnote 3 ] each contract contained a standard access to-records clause granting the Comptroller General the right to examine any directly pertinent records involving transactions related to the contract. Relying on these clauses, in August, 1974, the Comptroller General issued a formal demand to Merck for access to the following:

all books, documents, papers, and other records directly pertinent to the contracts, which include, but are not limited to (1) records of experienced costs including costs of direct materials, direct labor, overhead, and other pertinent corporate costs, (2) support for prices charged to the Government, and (3) such other information as may be necessary for use to review the reasonableness of the contract prices and the adequacy of the protection afforded the Government's interests.

App. 18a. [ Footnote 4 ] Merck refused to comply with the Comptroller General's request, and commenced this action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Comptroller General's access demand exceeded his statutory authority. [ Footnote 5 ] The United States intervened and counterclaimed to enforce the Comptroller General's demand.

The District Court granted partial summary judgment for each party. Rejecting Merck's argument that cost records are not "directly pertinent" to the fixed-price contracts that were the predicate of the General Accounting Office (GAO) demand, the court permitted access to all records

directly pertaining to the pricing and cost of producing the items furnished by... Merck under the... contracts... including manufacturing costs (including raw and packaging materials, labor and fringe benefits, quality control and supervision), manufacturing overhead (including plant administration, production planning, warehousing, utilities and security), royalty expenses, and delivery costs.

App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 811273, p. 39a. The court barred access, however, to records

with respect to research and development, marketing and promotion, distribution, and administration (except to the extent such data may be included in the cost items listed above).

Id. at 40a. In a brief per curiam opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. Merck & Co. v. Staats, 214 U.S.App.D.C. 418, 665 F.2d 1236 (1981).

Both parties sought certiorari. In No. 81-1273, the United States petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals' determination that records of Merck's indirect costs are not subject to examination by the Comptroller General. In No. 81-1472, Merck challenges the determination that records of its direct costs are "directly pertinent" to the contracts in question, and are therefore subject to examination. Merck also contends that access to its cost records is barred because the Comptroller General's access demand was not made for a congressionally authorized purpose. We granted certiorari on the petitions of both parties, 456 U.S. 925 (1982), and now affirm.


As with any issue of statutory construction, [ Footnote 6 ] we " must begin with the language of the statute itself.'" Bread Political Action Committee v. FEC, 455 U. S. 577, 455 U. S. 580 (1982), quoting 448 U. S. v. Rohm & Haas Co., 448 U. S. 176, 448 U. S. 187 (1980). The focal point of controversy is the meaning of the statutory phrase "directly pertain to and involve transactions relating to the contract." See n 3, supra. It is plain from the face of the provisions that these are words of limitation designed to restrict the class of records to which access is permitted by requiring some close connection between the type of records sought and the particular contract. [ Footnote 7 ]

The legislative history of the access provisions underscores what the language reflects: the intention of Congress to limit to some degree the Comptroller General's access powers. As originally introduced, the bill now codified as 10 U.S.C. § 2313(b) and 41 U.S.C. § 254(c) provided access to "pertinent" records "involving transactions related to" the contract. See 97 Cong.Rec. 13371 (1951). [ Footnote 8 ] Representative Hoffman opposed the original bill on the ground that it permitted "unnecessary snooping expeditions" and allowed the GAO to "go into everybody's business and look it over if they just wanted to take a look at it." Id. at 13373. He therefore offered a floor amendment to insert the word "directly" before the word "pertinent," stating that the purpose of the amendment "is to limit the snooping' that may be carried on under this bill." Id. at 13377. The sponsor of the original bill, Representative Hardy, did not oppose the amendment, and the amendment passed without debate or discussion.

The passage of the Hoffman amendment clearly reveals that Congress did not want unrestricted "snooping" by the Comptroller General into the business records of a private contractor. The Government nevertheless attempts to discount the significance of Congress' addition of the word "directly." Based on the lack of opposition to the limiting amendment by the bill's sponsor and the lack of debate, the Government argues that the Hoffman modification did not significantly alter the scope of the Hardy bill. We cannot agree. The only explanation in the legislative history of the meaning and purpose of the amendment is that of Representative Hoffman. His statement, which, as the explanation of the sponsor of the language, is an "authoritative guide to the statute's construction," North Haven Board of Education v. Bell, 456 U. S. 512, 456 U. S. 527 (1982), expressly indicates that the intent of the amendment was to curtail the scope of investigation authorized under the bill. Although, as the Government emphasizes, Representative Hoffman did not have the votes to defeat the bill in its entirety, he nevertheless had the votes to circumscribe the inquiry that the Comptroller General was authorized to undertake. Moreover, to accept the Government's contention that the amendment had no substantive effect would contradict the settled principle of statutory construction that we must give effect, if possible, to every word of the statute. Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U. S. 141, 458 U. S. 163 (1982). Therefore, in our attempt to give meaning to the words "directly pertinent," we must be mindful of Congress' aim to protect contractors from broad-ranging governmental intrusion into their private business affairs.

It does not follow, however, that our interpretation of the language added by the Hoffman amendment must be guided solely by that policy, for it is expressive of only one of the aims embraced by Congress in enacting the access-to-records provisions. The legislative history also reveals that Congress sought, in granting the GAO this access authority, to equip that agency with a tool to detect fraud, waste, inefficiency, and extravagance in Government contracting generally. Representative Hardy, the sponsor of the legislation, explained that the two major purposes of the bill were

to give the Comptroller General the proper tools to do the job the Congress has instructed him to do... and... to provide a deterrent to improprieties and wastefulness in the negotiation of contracts.

97 Cong.Rec. 13198 (1951). With regard to the former purpose, it is clear that Congress envisioned use of the access authority as an adjunct to the Comptroller General's statutory responsibility to "investigate... all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds" and to "make recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures." 31 U.S.C. § 53(a). See also 31 U.S.C. §§ 60, 65(a). [ Footnote 9 ] Obviously, broad access to cost records would enhance the GAO's ability to evaluate the reasonableness of the price charged the Government and to identify areas of waste and inefficiency in procurement.

Because of the lack of debate or discussion of the Hoffman amendment, however, we do not have any indication in the legislative history, nor indeed in the language of the statute itself, of the scope of access authority left to the GAO after the restrictive words were added to the bill. In defining the degree of limitation, we thus traverse uncharted seas, guided only by the two general statutory purposes reflected in the legislative history. Consequently, our task in construing the statutes as they apply in this action is to give effect to both of these congressional aims. The tension between these goals is apparent. For some industries and some types of contracts, including perhaps those at issue here, neither objective can be achieved fully without sacrificing the other. [ Footnote 10 ] Given these dual, conflicting aims, we must balance the public interest served by full GAO investigations against the private interest in freedom from officious governmental intermeddling in the contractor's private business affairs.



The Government contends that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that records of Merck's indirect costs [ Footnote 11 ] are not "directly pertinent" to the contracts in question. In so arguing, the Government maintains that Merck's indirect costs are directly pertinent to the fixed-price contracts because Merck uses payments made by the Government under these contracts to defray indirect expenses. Thus, the Government would have us define as "directly pertinent" the records of any costs defrayed from commingled general revenues that include Government payments under the contract.

We cannot accept this interpretation of the statute, however, for it completely eviscerates the congressional goal of protecting the privacy of the contractor's business records. Under the Government's proposed definition, records of expenditures to purchase raw materials for the manufacture of an entirely different product than that sold under the Government contract or to invest in the stock of another corporation would be subject to inspection by the Comptroller General. Hence, the Government's interpretation would permit far-ranging governmental scrutiny of a contractor's business records of nongovernmental transactions completely unrelated to either the contract underlying the access demand or the product procured under that contract. Indeed, carried to its logical extreme, the argument would dictate that few, if any, of a private contractor's business records would be immune from GAO scrutiny. In short, the Government's proposed definition of the statutory language admits of no doctrinal limitation, effectively reading the Hoffman limiting language and its "anti-snooping" policy out of the statute.


Nor are we persuaded by the Government's argument that the GAO's consistent and longstanding interpretation of its authority under the access-to-records statutes supports the view that indirect cost records are subject to examination under the fixed-price contracts in question here. Even if that interpretation could be characterized as consistent, it would not be entitled to deference, for, as we have noted above, it is inconsistent with the statutory language. See Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U. S. 397, 442 U. S. 411 (1979).

Moreover, to characterize the GAO's current sweeping view of its access authority as "consistent" would be generous. There is significant evidence indicating that, in the past, the GAO itself has acknowledged a deficiency in its statutory authority to examine indirect cost records. [ Footnote 12 ] For example, in a ruling of particular significance for the facts of this case, the Comptroller General determined in 1967 that the access provisions do not confer upon the GAO the right to examine records relating to a contractor's nongovernmental business, even when such review is necessary to determine whether a catalog-priced item was actually sold in substantial quantities to the general public. App. 162a-163a. Moreover, in late 1969, the GAO prepared a memorandum for Congress in connection with congressional consideration of a proposed grant of additional access authority to the GAO to pursue a study of contractor profits in the defense industry. In the memorandum, the GAO informed Congress that its authority under the 1951 access provisions did not extend to review of records of a contractor's nongovernmental business, and that additional access authority was therefore necessary to conduct a profit study. 115 Cong.Rec. 25800-25801 (1969) (reprinting GAO Memorandum on the Adequacy of the Legal Authority of the Comptroller General to Conduct a Comprehensive Study of Profitability in Defense Contracting). Finally, a 1970 internal memorandum also reveals the GAO's belief that amendment of the 1951 access statutes would be necessary to give it the power to examine records of indirect costs. App. 160a-161a. [ Footnote 13 ]

The only statements by the GAO directly supportive of its position here occur in testimony before a congressional Subcommittee in 1963 regarding the GAO's litigation of the scope of its access authority in Hewlett-Packard Co. v. United States, 385 F.2d 1013 (CA9 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 988 (1968). [ Footnote 14 ] In light of the GAO's litigation posture during these hearings, as well as the contrary expressions of GAO opinion noted above, this testimony cannot provide persuasive evidence of the GAO's consistent interpretation or practice.


To summarize, the Government has failed to offer a definition of "directly pertinent" that would give any effect to the limiting purpose of that language. In our view, the appropriate accommodation of the competing goals reflected in the legislative history counsels us to draw the line precisely where both lower courts have drawn it. Thus, under the four fixed-price contracts in question, the Comptroller General should be permitted access to records of direct costs. [ Footnote 15 ] He should be barred, however, from inspecting records of costs incurred in the areas of research and development, marketing and promotion, distribution, and administration, except to the extent the contractor has allocated these costs as attributable to the particular contract. [ Footnote 16 ]

Direct costs certainly pertain directly to even a fixed-price contract, for direct costs are, by definition, readily identifiable as attributable to the specific product supplied under the contract. Consequently, as a rational businessman, the contractor will have some regard for these costs in setting even a catalog price in order to avoid a loss on the product. Because these costs therefore have a very direct influence on the price charged the Government, the GAO would need to examine records of these costs to determine whether the contractor is making an excessively high profit or the Government is getting a "fair deal" under the contract. Presumably, indirect costs also influence in some manner the setting of a catalog price, although to what extent is unclear, given the somewhat arbitrary accounting allocations that must be made to determine what portion of indirect costs may be attributed to a specific product. Nevertheless, the degree of intrusion into the contractor's private business affairs occasioned by GAO scrutiny of indirect cost records is far greater, particularly where pure fixed-price contracts are involved. Such an inspection would entail exposure to the GAO of many of the contractor's nongovernmental transactions. [ Footnote 17 ] We therefore conclude that the appropriate balance of public and private interests in this situation weighs in favor of access to direct cost records, but against access to Merck's indirect cost records. [ Footnote 18 ] Our decision in this regard is in accord with that of the majority of the Courts of Appeals to have considered this issue. [ Footnote 19 ]

The Government objects strenuously that barring such access impermissibly constrains the GAO in its efforts to improve the procurement process. In an industry in which indirect costs represent such a large proportion of total costs, [ Footnote 20 ] access to records of those costs is critical to an understanding of the industry with which the Government is dealing and to an assessment of the fairness of the contract price and the advisability of continued adherence to the negotiated procurement methods employed under those contracts. [ Footnote 21 ]

As we have already noted, however, in adopting the Hoffman amendment, Congress was apparently willing to forgo the benefits that might be gained from permitting the GAO broad access to the contractor's business records in order to protect those contractors from far-reaching governmental scrutiny of their nongovernmental affairs. By inclusion of that language, Congress injected into the determination of which records are accessible considerations besides the Government's need for the information. Thus, any impediment that our holding places in the path of the GAO's power to investigate fully Government contracts is one that Congress chose to adopt, [ Footnote 22 ] and any arguments that this situation should be changed must be addressed to Congress, not the courts. [ Footnote 23 ]


We address briefly Merck's contention that there is yet another independent ground upon which the Comptroller General should be denied access to any of its cost records. Merck argues that the GAO is not entitled to examine these records, because the access demand was not made for a congressionally authorized purpose. Specifically, Merck contends that the access-to-records statutes do not permit the Comptroller General to request records for the purpose of either conducting an economic study of the pharmaceutical industry or securing information desired by individual Members of Congress.

Much of what we have already said provides an answer to this contention. The legislative history reveals that Congress granted the GAO authority to examine directly pertinent records under individual procurement contracts in order to assess the reasonableness of the prices paid by the Government and to detect inefficiency and wastefulness. Given this authorized purpose, there is no reason to conclude that the GAO may not compile the information that it may lawfully obtain, within the statutory limits outlined above, from an investigation of individual contracts in order to arrive at a picture of the pharmaceutical industry generally. [ Footnote 24 ] Moreover, the fact that two Senators encouraged the GAO to use its lawful authority to the fullest extent possible is irrelevant. The GAO is an independent agency within the Legislative Branch that exists in large part to serve the needs of Congress. If the records sought by the GAO are within the scope of the access-to-records provisions, the fact that the Comptroller General's request had its origin in the requests of Congressmen or that the GAO reported the data to Congress does not vitiate its authority.


Because of the GAO's mandate to detect fraud, waste, inefficiency, and extravagance through full audits of Government contracts, we cannot accept Merck's view that the only records directly pertinent to the four fixed-price contracts at issue are those necessary to verify that Merck actually had an established catalog price for the item procured, that it sold the items in substantial quantities to the general public at the catalog price, that it delivered the product specified, and that it received from the Government no more than the amount due under the contract. On the other hand, given the policy of protecting the privacy of contractors' business records also expressed in the statutory language and legislative history, neither can we accept the Government's contention that it must be permitted access to all of Merck's cost records. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

It is so ordered.


* Together with No. 81-1472, Merck & Co., Inc. v. Bowsher, Comptroller General of the United States, et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

[ Footnote 1 ]

A pure fixed-price contract requires the contractor to furnish the goods or services for a fixed amount of compensation regardless of the costs of performance, thereby placing the risk of incurring unforeseen costs of performance on the contractor, rather than the Government. See 1 R. Nash & J. Cibinic, Federal Procurement Law 413 (3d ed.1977). Variations on the pure fixed-price contract may contain some formula or technique for adjusting the contract price to account for unforeseen cost elements. See id. at 413-415 (discussing fixed-price contract with escalation clause, fixed-price incentive contract, and fixed-price redeterminable contract).

[ Footnote 2 ]

The Government employs two methods of procurement: advertised procurement, i.e., formal solicitation of competitive bids, and procurement by negotiation. A negotiated contract is the method authorized by statute for use in situations in which the formal advertising and bidding procedure is deemed impractical or unnecessary. See 10 U.S.C. § 2304(a); 41 U.S.C. § 252(c). In procuring by negotiation, the Government agency discusses the terms of the procurement with one or more contractors and awards the contract to the party offering the terms most advantageous to the Government.

[ Footnote 3 ]

Title 10 U.S.C. § 2313(b), which applies to the Defense Supply Agency contracts, provides:

Except as provided in subsection (c), each contract negotiated under this chapter shall provide that the Comptroller General and his representatives are entitled, until the expiration of three years after final payment, to examine any books, documents, papers, or records of the contractor, or any of his subcontractors, that directly pertain to and involve transactions relating to, the contract or subcontract.

The Veterans' Administration contract is governed by 41 U.S.C. § 254(c), which provides in pertinent part:

All contracts negotiated without advertising... shall include a clause to the effect that the Comptroller General of the United States... shall until the expiration of three years after final payment have access to and the right to examine any directly pertinent books, documents, papers, and records of the contractor or any of his subcontractors engaged in the performance of and involving transactions related to such contracts or subcontracts.

Despite the slight difference in wording, there is no substantive difference between the defense and civilian procurement statutes.

[ Footnote 4 ]

The Comptroller General issued identical demands to five other pharmaceutical companies. These access-to-records demands apparently were the product of congressional interest in competition and profits in the pharmaceutical industry generally.

As early as 1971, Senator Gaylord Nelson suggested during hearings on competition in the drug industry that the Comptroller General invoke his access-to-records authority "to take a look" at the costs incurred by pharmaceutical companies. Hearings on Competitive Problems in the Drug Industry before the Subcommittee on Monopoly of the Senate Select Committee on Small Business, 92d Cong., 1st Sess., 8020 (1971). Following those hearings, Senator Nelson's staff continued to urge the General Accounting Office (GAO) to use the access provisions to obtain cost records "without any strings attached, so that the high profits could be publicized by product and firm." App. 144a; id. at 142a-148a. See also Hearings, supra, at 8537, 8581-8583.

Finally in June, 1973, the GAO responded by proposing a two-phase study of the economics of the pharmaceutical industry to be accomplished through voluntary participation by drug companies. Merck and five other companies agreed to cooperate in the first phase, which contemplated gathering background data on the industry. In April, 1974, the GAO issued a proposal for the second phase of the study, aimed at developing data on "salient economic and operational aspects of the industry." App. 141a. Merck expressed its concern over participating in this phase without adequate assurance of the confidentiality of the cost data it might be requested to supply.

Initially, the GAO agreed that the data regarding individual companies and individual drug products should remain confidential and anonymous. Id. at 150a. Senators Nelson and Kennedy and their staffs, however, reiterated that the Subcommittee's objectives could be served only by publication of the data. Ibid. The Comptroller General's formal demand letters to the six companies that had participated voluntarily in the Phase I study followed.

[ Footnote 5 ]

Four of the remaining five pharmaceutical companies that received demand letters also challenged the Comptroller General's request. See Smith-Kline Corp. v. Staats, 668 F.2d 201 (CA3 1981), cert. pending, Nos. 81-2082, 81-2268; Bristol Laboratories Division of Bristol-Myers Co. v. Staats, 620 F.2d 17 (CA2 1980) (per curiam), aff'd by an equally divided Court, 461 U. S. 400 (1981); United States v. Abbott Laboratories, 597 F.2d 672 (CA7 1979); Eli Lilly & Co. v. Staats, 574 F.2d 904 (CA7), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 959 (1978).

[ Footnote 6 ]

The parties agree that the scope of the Comptroller General's authority under the access-to-records clauses in the four contracts turns on the meaning of the statutory language, rather than on the intention of the parties to the contract. We also emphasize at the outset that Merck does not challenge the authority of Congress to impose, as a condition of doing business with the Government, a requirement that contractors disclose all of their cost records to the Comptroller General, regardless of the pertinence of these records to the particular contract. Rather, Merck bases its arguments on its interpretation of the statutory language.

[ Footnote 7 ]

In partial dissent, JUSTICE BLACKMUN objects that, after a nod in the direction of the statutory language, we inexplicably wander off to explore the statutory purposes. Post at 460 U. S. 860. As we observe infra at 460 U. S. 834, however, the statutory language does not tell us exactly which records are subject to GAO examination. It is a well-settled canon of statutory construction that, where the language does not dictate an answer to the problem before the Court, "we must analyze the policies underlying the statutory provision to determine its proper scope." Rose v. Lundy, 455 U. S. 509, 455 U. S. 517 (1982). Accordingly, we examine the legislative history to assess the purposes Congress sought to serve by the language it chose. As shown infra, the statutory purposes clearly revealed by the legislative record justify allowing access to direct cost records.

[ Footnote 8 ]

This bill was modeled on, and as originally proposed was identical to, a January, 1951, amendment to the First War Powers Act of 1941. See Act of Jan. 12, 1951, 64 Stat. 1257. That amendment was a piece of emergency legislation adopted in response to the crisis conditions created by the Korean War. Because of severe wartime inflation, many defense contractors holding fixed-priced contracts could not meet their obligations. To alleviate the problem, Congress gave President Truman emergency authority to renegotiate Government contracts. See H.R.Rep. No. 3227, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., 3-4 (1950). The access-to-records provisions were included in order to deter fraud and profiteering in the renegotiation process. 96 Cong.Rec. 17123 (1951) (remarks of Rep. Celler) ("The amendment will give power to the General Accounting Office to go into the books and delve into the records of these contractors who have been relieved to determine whether or not there is fraud or overreaching or whether they have done anything untoward").

Although the initial access-to-records legislation in the January, 1951, amendments was of limited duration, Congress shortly thereafter passed the permanent version at issue here. Representative Hardy, the sponsor of both the temporary and permanent access-to-records provisions, learned that Government procurement officers were negotiating contract modifications under two permanent procurement statutes that lacked access provisions, the Armed Services Procurement Act of 1947 and the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949. "In order to plug this loophole," Representative Hardy introduced the bill to require inclusion of access-to-records clauses in contracts negotiated under these statutes. 97 Cong.Rec. 13198 (1951) (remarks of Rep. Hardy).

[ Footnote 9 ]

Representative Hardy further explained the inspiration for the bill. Because of the absence of competitive safeguards when the Government procures by negotiation, rather than by formal solicitation of bids, Representative Hardy identified a need to establish "every reasonable safeguard against waste and extravagance in the spending of" Government funds in the context of negotiated contracts. 97 Cong.Rec. 13198 (1951). By permitting the GAO "to check the transaction both from the Government records and the contractors' books," the bill would ensure that the Government did not "come out on the short end of the deal." Ibid. Representative Hardy then cited a number of "typical situations in which the authority of this bill would play an effective part." Ibid. One example dealt with detection of an inefficient market structure under which, because the Government was purchasing automotive parts from a dealer who in turn bought from a middleman, the Government was paying a price that included "profits upon profits, and completely wasteful administrative and handling costs." Ibid.

Thus, contrary to Merck's assertion, the 1951 access statutes were designed to detect more than fraud and abuse in the negotiation of procurement contracts. Representative Hardy himself remarked that GAO review under the access provisions would disclose "a lot of other situations besides those involving fraud." Id. at 13199.

[ Footnote 10 ]

It is possible that the 1951 Congress was aware of this tension. The addition of the Hoffman amendment was a clear compromise. Representative Hoffman had adamantly opposed the Hardy bill from the outset because of the breadth of authority it would give to the GAO. The amendment he offered emerged from a discussion between Representative Hardy and Representative Hoffman and represented the extent of the limitation upon GAO's access authority that Representative Hardy would accept. See 97 Cong.Rec. 13377 (1951) (remarks of Rep. Hoffman).

It does not follow, as JUSTICE WHITE assumes, post at 460 U. S. 852, from the fact that the Hoffman amendment was a compromise that the restrictive language is to be given no effect at all. In dissent, JUSTICE WHITE refers to the Hoffman amendment as "largely a sop to the bill's opponents." Post at 460 U. S. 853. The legislative record, however, tells us that a majority voted for the Hoffman amendment, and we must give weight to the expressed will of a legislative majority. JUSTICE WHITE also interprets the Hoffman amendment as an "assurance that the bill would not be used as a basis for inspection of books and records having no substantial connection with Government procurement." Ibid. Notwithstanding this recognition of the amendment's purpose, however, JUSTICE WHITE adopts a construction of "directly pertinent" that completely eviscerates the limiting purpose of the Hoffman amendment, for he would allow the GAO access to any records helpful in determining the amount of profit being made by the contractor. See post at 460 U. S. 856. Thus, under the guise of "interpretation" of the statute, JUSTICE WHITE has "construed" the statute so broadly as to give it a reading indistinguishable in effect from the bills to expand the GAO's access authority that were rejected by Congress in the 1970's. See n 12, infra. Such an approach therefore bespeaks legislation, rather than interpretation.

Recognizing the extreme encroachment upon the privacy of a contractor's business records which his interpretation of the statutes would permit, JUSTICE WHITE attempts to bring "balance" and "reason" to bear on the situation by invoking courts' powers under Fourth Amendment principles to limit the GAO's right of access. Post at 460 U. S. 857 -858. If, however, Congress had intended the GAO demands to be limited only by the Fourth Amendment, it need not have concerned itself with requiring that records be directly pertinent to the contract.

[ Footnote 11 ]

By indirect costs, we mean costs incurred in the areas of research and development, marketing and promotion, distribution, and administration, which are not directly attributable to a particular product.

[ Footnote 12 ]

It is significant to note that the profit study of the defense industry, which Congress authorized as part of the Military Appropriations Act of 1970, Pub.L. 91-121, § 408, 83 Stat. 204, is the only occasion on which Congress has deliberately granted the GAO the kind of broad-ranging authority it asserts here. In conferring this authority, Congress, wary of equipping the GAO to conduct a "fishing expedition," 115 Cong.Rec. 25795 (1969) (remarks of Sen. Ribicoff), carefully limited such authority to "only a single study." Id. at 25793 (remarks of Sen. Proxmire).

Although not conclusive with respect to interpretation of the 1951 access statutes, subsequent congressional rebuffs of GAO requests for expansion of its access authority are instructive both with regard to the GAO's view of the limits of the 1951 legislation and Congress' apparent reluctance to broaden that legislation. For example, a Senate bill introduced in 1973 directed that

the Comptroller General... shall... have access for the purpose of audit and examination to any books, documents, papers and records... which in the opinion of... the Comptroller General may be related or pertinent to the... contracts... [or] subcontracts.

S. 2049 93d Cong., 1st Sess. (1973) (emphasis added). Another Senate bill which, like S. 2049 never emerged from committee, would have granted the Comptroller General authority to undertake a study of profits made on Government and commercial contracts by contractors having Government contracts aggregating $1 million or more. To enable the Comptroller General to make such studies, the bill gave him the authority to demand from the contractor "such information maintained in the normal course of business... as the Comptroller General determines necessary or appropriate." S. 3014, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. (1974). See also S. 2268, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975).

[ Footnote 13 ]

We observe that JUSTICE WHITE's dissent makes no attempt at all to deal with this evidence of the GAO's own view of the limits of its access authority. Given the GAO's historic position, excepting of course its position in the Hewlett-Packard case and the current litigation, see infra, contractors like Merck who entered into fixed-price negotiated contracts with the Government had no reason to expect that consenting to inclusion of the access-to-records clause would subject their businesses to the kind of broad-ranging inquiry which JUSTICE WHITE's dissent approves.

[ Footnote 14 ]

Hewlett-Packard, like this case, involved a request by the Comptroller General to review cost records of a contractor who entered into fixed-price negotiated contracts. During that litigation, a congressional Subcommittee commenced hearings to investigate "the need for, or desirability of, recommending legislative action" in light of Hewlett-Packard's refusal to permit inspection of its cost records under the access provisions. Hearings on Relation of Cost Data to Military Procurement before the Subcommittee for Special Investigations of the House Committee on Armed Services, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1963). During the course of these hearings, Robert F. Keller, General Counsel of the GAO, testified concerning the GAO's position with respect to the Hewlett-Packard situation.

It is our position that the contract clause and the statute give us the right to examine the cost records of the contractor and other pertinent data that relates [ sic ] to the items included in the contract, in sufficient completeness and detail to permit us to determine the reasonableness of the negotiated prices.

Id. at 10. Mr. Keller further stated that the GAO could "go beyond direct manufacturing costs" into such areas as "how research costs are allocated as between the Government contract and commercial business." Id. at 23.

In legislative hearings in 1965, which in part addressed "the extent of the GAO's right to examine contractor books and records," Hearings on Comptroller General Reports to Congress on Audits of Defense Contracts before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1965), the Comptroller General again referred to his position in the Hewlett-Packard case, which was still pending in the courts, regarding the proper interpretation of the access provisions. Id. at 45.

[ Footnote 15 ]

Direct costs would include the direct manufacturing and overhead costs incurred in producing the specific drug items procured under the four contracts, as identified by the District Court. See supra at 460 U. S. 829 -830.

[ Footnote 16 ]

JUSTICE WHITE objects that this line-drawing permits a contractor to restrict the GAO's access authority by the particular accounting practices the contractor chooses to adopt. Post at 460 U. S. 856 -857, n. 18. That objection, however, is not accurate. We have indicated that, as a general matter, because of the congressional intent to protect the privacy of the contractor's records involving nongovernmental transactions, the Government is precluded from inspecting records of indirect costs. Nevertheless, the Government is permitted access to some records falling within the latter category if the contractor has made the extra effort of identifying, for his own purposes, some indirect costs that he thinks may be attributable to specific products. To the extent the contractor has done so, the Government is permitted access to records of those costs. This principle does not tie the Government's entire access authority to the accounting practices adopted by the contractor. Such inspection represents a windfall, as it were, to the Government based upon the extra effort the contractor has made in allocating his costs. Without that effort, the Government would not otherwise be permitted to inspect such records because of privacy concerns. Given this added benefit to the Government, it is anomalous to argue that its access authority is being "limited" by the contractor's accounting method.

[ Footnote 17 ]

By contrast, where the contract that serves as the predicate for the GAO's access demand is cost-based -as in a cost-plus contract -the contractor is in no position to complain of the intrusiveness of GAO inspection of indirect cost records. By claiming from the Government full reimbursement for these costs under the cost-based contract, the contractor represents that these costs are justified as attributable to the performance of the Government contract, and not to any nongovernmental transactions. Therefore, the public interest served by permitting the GAO to inspect records supporting these claims clearly outweighs any privacy interests the contractor possesses in those records.

[ Footnote 18 ]

JUSTICE WHITE suggests that, when indirect cost records relate both to governmental and nongovernmental transactions, the GAO should be permitted access to the records of any indirect costs that it can prove had a direct and substantial impact on the price charged to the Government under the contract. Post at 460 U. S. 857. This approach is unworkable for both the Government and contractors. To decide these "close questions" of direct pertinence, the parties to the fixed-price contract may be forced to resort to the courts. Bright-line rules upon which the parties' expectations may be firmly established are preferable to the protracted litigation that JUSTICE WHITE's suggestion would engender.

[ Footnote 19 ]

In addition to the decision below, see Smith-Kline Corp. v. Staats, 668 F.2d 201 (CA3 1981), cert. pending, Nos. 81-2082, 81-2268, and Bristol Laboratories Division of Bristol-Myers Co. v. Staats, 620 F.2d 17 (CA2 1980) (per curiam), aff'd by an equally divided Court, 451 U. S. 400 (1981). See also Hewlett-Packard Co. v. United States, 385 F.2d 1013 (CA9 1967) (permitting access to records of direct production costs, including direct material, direct labor, and overhead costs), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 988 (1968).

[ Footnote 20 ]

The Government suggests that direct costs may represent as little as 9% of the sales price of a pharmaceutical product. Brief for Petitioners in No. 81-1273, p. 34.

[ Footnote 21 ]

We observe, however, that the Government has conceded in this action that it has no reason to suspect that Merck has engaged in any fraud or impropriety in connection with the negotiation or performance of these contracts. App. 41a-44a, 76a. Nor does the Government have any reason to believe that the prices charged under these contracts were unreasonable in any way. Id. at 42a, 76a. In fact, the price under each of the contracts was the lowest price at which Merck sold each of the products to anyone at the time the contracts were awarded. Id. at 26a, 42a.

[ Footnote 22 ]

The extent of any burden is, however, unclear. In fact, in testimony before Congress, the Comptroller General candidly expressed doubts about the usefulness of access to records of indirect costs in the pharmaceutical industry, suggesting that the attempt to determine from these records the portion of indirect costs allocable to individual drug products would be "a waste of time." Hearings on Competitive Problems in the Drug Industry before the Subcommittee on Monopoly of the Senate Select Committee on Small Business, 92d Cong., 2d Sess., 8578 (1972).

[ Footnote 23 ]

The GAO's own recognition of this dilemma has prompted it, as outlined in n 12, supra, to seek expanded access authority from Congress. Its efforts for expansion are more appropriately directed to that forum.

[ Footnote 24 ]

The record indicates that compilation of information lawfully obtainable under its access authority is what the GAO intended to accomplish. One GAO official explained:

[I]f we were to use our right of access under specified Federal contracts, we would attempt, insofar as possible,to present a report similar to that which we had proposed to present under the April, 1974, proposal [for the second phase of the economic study of the pharmaceutical industry]. App. 154a-155a (emphasis added). GAO officials also recognized that the statutory restrictions on its access authority would necessitate some changes in the approach contemplated under the prior two-phase study based on the voluntary participation of the pharmaceutical companies.Ibid.

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