Chief Auditor Leaves
Warning About National
By David S. Broader
Post" -- -It was sheer coincidence that
David M. Walker spent his last day Wednesday as comptroller
general of the United States at the same time that the House and
Senate were beginning to debate their budget resolutions for
As the head of the Government Accountability Office, the
auditing arm of Congress, Walker has been perhaps the most
outspoken official in Washington warning of the fiscal train
wreck that awaits this country unless it mends its ways.
The budget resolutions approved last week both envisage an
increase in the deficit next year. The Senate predicts $366
billion, the House $340 billion. Meanwhile, over the next five
years, independent estimates are that the national debt, already
$9 trillion, will grow by $2 trillion more. Almost half the
government debt owed to banks or individuals is held by foreign
creditors, notably China, Japan and the OPEC nations, up from 13
percent five years ago.
Both resolutions forecast a balanced budget in 2012, but they
use the same dubiously optimistic assumptions President Bush
employed to make the same claim for his tax-and-spending
proposal. Once again, the hard choices are being pushed off to
some hazy future.
For much of his nine years as comptroller general, and with
increasing urgency in recent times, Walker has been warning
policymakers in Washington and audiences around the country that
this nation is courting disaster by not paying its bills.
Last week, he cautioned in a speech that "largely due to the
aging of the baby boomers and rising health care costs, the
United States faces decades of red ink. . . . If the United
States continues as it has, policymakers will eventually have to
raise taxes or slash government services that U.S. citizens
depend on and take for granted. . . . Over time, the U.S.
government could be reduced to doing little more than mailing
out Social Security checks to retirees and paying interest on
the massive national debt."
Even as a nonpartisan employee of Congress, Walker has been
blunt enough to say, again and again, that "at both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue and on both sides of the political aisle,
there are too few leaders who face the facts" about this fiscal
When I went to see Walker two days before he left office, he
told me he had begun to realize he was pushing the limits on
advocacy at the GAO. So he jumped at the opportunity offered him
by Peter G. Peterson, the son of Greek immigrants who made a
fortune as a Wall Street investment banker. Peterson has created
a foundation bearing his name and promised to fund it with $1
billion over a period of years. Walker is now running it.
The foundation's main focus will be to spur action to curb the
deficits, but other target areas will include education,
especially fiscal literacy and civics, energy conservation and
nonproliferation of nuclear and biological weapons.
With Peterson's backing, Walker said he will be able to do
things his old job did not allow -- "advocate specific
solutions, build coalitions and put grass-roots pressure on
Because others already have done "a lot of the basic research
and analysis" needed in these areas, Walker said the Peterson
Foundation will emphasize the advocacy role, especially with the
business community and young people.
He said that his experience in 35 town meetings has convinced
him that "the people are ahead of the politicians" in their
readiness to see the government discipline itself. "But they
don't know what we need to do."
Walker said that in his judgment, the United States "has no more
than five or 10 years" to readjust its policies to stave off
fiscal ruin. He said that "unless the next president makes this
a priority, this effort of ours won't make a difference." But he
said the public will have to demand a change of course, or
politicians will continue to shilly-shally.
The last time the broad public grasped the danger of budget
deficits was in 1992, when Ross Perot paid for half-hour
television infomercials, complete with dramatic charts and
graphs, as part of his presidential campaign. That seeded the
ground for Bill Clinton's 1993 effort that succeeded briefly in
wiping out those deficits.
Perot later gave Walker an autographed copy of one of those
charts, as a tribute to a legatee. Walker says the foundation
will try to emulate Perot, using television, the Internet and
all other communication tools. No task is more important to our
Broder is a Washington Post columnist.
Click on "comments" below to read or post comments
Be succinct, constructive and
relevant to the story.
We encourage engaging, diverse
and meaningful commentary. Do not include
personal information such as names, addresses,
phone numbers and emails. Comments falling
outside our guidelines – those including
personal attacks and profanity – are not
See our complete
use this link to notify us if you have concerns
about a comment.
We’ll promptly review and remove any
Send Page To a Friend
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational
purposes. Information Clearing House has no
affiliation whatsoever with the originator of
this article nor is Information ClearingHouse
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)