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Presentation by The Honorable David M. Walker: Comptroller General of 
the United States: 

"The Challenges and Opportunities of Public Service: Administrator of 
the Year Award" 

Speech before the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management: 
Brigham Young University: 
Provo, Utah: 

March 2, 2006: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


I am honored to accept this year's Administrator of the Year award. I 
know there's a long list of distinguished recipients going back nearly 
35 years, including governors, federal and local officials, educators, 
and religious leaders. In fact, one of my predecessors as Comptroller 
General, Elmer Staats, received this award back in 1982. Elmer's a 
model public servant, a great friend, and someone I respect a lot. 

George Romney, the namesake of this university's Institute of Public 
Management, is another example of a superb public administrator. In 
whatever job he held, George Romney worked tirelessly to improve 
things. Over the course of his long career, he made major contributions 
in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. George Romney was an 
innovator in the automotive industry, most notably as chairman of 
American Motors. He was elected to three terms as governor of Michigan, 
where he helped to eliminate the state's deficit, led conservation 
efforts, boosted education funding, and streamlined state government. 
George Romney was also a strong advocate of civil rights at a time 
when, I'm sorry to say, it wasn't an easy or popular position. He also 
served for four years as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. 
Incredibly, after retirement, George Romney built a third career as a 
champion of volunteerism. One can become exhausted just describing his 
accomplishments! This was a man for all seasons and a man for all 

Clearly, George Romney was someone of outstanding ability, but he was 
also someone with great vision, solid values, and unwavering faith. He 
understood that working for the greater good is life's highest calling. 
Like George Romney, I have worked in both the public and private 
sectors, and I view public service not as a job but as a privilege, a 
unique opportunity to make the world a better place. Today, I wish we 
had more administrators like George Romney running government entities. 

At all levels of government, we need more men and women who are willing 
to speak the truth, face the facts, take a long-term perspective, and 
prepare our country and its citizens for the changes and challenges of 
the 21st century. Many of these challenges are unprecedented in their 
size, scope, complexity, and potential impact. As I'll point out later, 
there are both opportunities to capitalize on and serious risks that 
must be managed. And, by the way, it's a mistake to assume that these 
challenges are primarily a federal problem. After all, bad news flows 
downstream, and eventually, state and local governments will begin to 
feel the federal government's fiscal pain. 

But so far, there have been few calls for any dramatic change in 
direction or significant shared sacrifice. Candidly, if our ship of 
state continues on its current course, we're all going to have to 
fasten our seat belts, because we're headed for one heck of a bumpy 
ride, and possibly a crash. 

What we need now are leaders who have the courage to put the needs of 
the next generation ahead of the next election cycle, leaders who will 
fulfill their stewardship responsibility to our nation and its 
citizens. At the end of the day, we should be able to look our children 
and grandchildren in the eye and say we did everything we could to pass 
on an America that's both better off and better positioned for the 
future. This has been a long-standing tradition in this country, one 
that we should try to continue. 

Tonight, I'm going to talk more about some of these challenges to give 
you a better sense of where we're headed and why it's so urgent that we 
transform government. As a case study, I'll briefly describe my efforts 
to modernize my agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office 
(GAO), to better position it to serve Congress and the American people. 
Finally, I'll examine the key role that ethics and integrity need to 
play in public administration and I'll talk a bit about the importance 
of public service. 

21st Century Challenges: 

We have entered a world that's changed dramatically in the last several 
decades. The generally prosperous and more predictable way of life that 
came after the Second World War is fast drawing to a close. The signs 
are everywhere, especially in our economy. The financial problems at GM 
and the airline industry, along with the pension freezes at Verizon, 
Motorola, and IBM, are just the most recent reminders of how quickly 
things are changing. 

Today, each of us as individuals, along with our elected 
representatives, needs to start taking greater responsibility for our 
own and our country's future. Make no mistake--this will require 
difficult decisions and will involve some degree of sacrifice. But it's 
essential that we act, and act soon. What's at stake is nothing less 
than our future economic growth, our future standard of living, and 
even our future national security. 

What are these changes and challenges? Let me start with possibly the 
most sweeping agent of change, and that's demographics. Changing 
demographics will decisively shape the American and global landscape of 
2020 and beyond. Our population is aging. At the same time, U.S. 
workforce growth is slowing. This means that just when growing numbers 
of baby boomers like me start to retire and draw benefits, there will 
be a lower ratio of workers paying taxes and contributing to pension 
plans. Importantly, retirees are living longer and retiring earlier. 
This is going to put huge strains on our pension and health-care 

Beyond demographics, the United States confronts a range of other 
challenges. Globalization is affecting everything from our 
international competitiveness and trade to our approach to public 
health. For example, globalization is a key reason health experts are 
so concerned about the rapid spread of viruses like avian flu. 

With the end of the Cold War, we face new security threats, including 
transnational terrorist networks and rogue nations armed with weapons 
of mass destruction. Other challenges come from technology. In the past 
100 years, but especially the last 25 years, spectacular advances in 
technology have transformed everything from how we do business to how 
we communicate to how we treat and cure diseases. But we are also 
struggling with privacy, security, and other concerns. 

In many respects, our quality of life has never been better. We're 
living longer, we're better educated, and we're more likely to own our 
own homes. But as many of you already know from your own families, we 
also face a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots and we're 
facing a range of quality-of-life concerns. These include 
underachieving public schools, gridlocked city streets, energy and 
environmental challenges, increasingly expensive and inadequate health-
care coverage, and the stresses of caring for aging parents and growing 
children at the same time. 

Our Worsening Finances: 

Perhaps the most urgent challenge is our nation's worsening financial 
condition and growing long-term fiscal imbalance. Largely because of 
known demographic trends, rising health care costs, and lower federal 
revenues as a percentage of the economy, America faces decades of red 
ink. The facts on this aren't in question. Given our worsening 
financial outlook, the government's recent spending sprees and deep tax 
cuts are nothing less than a body blow to federal fiscal 

As a CPA and the federal official who signs the annual audit report on 
the federal government's consolidated financial statements, I'm here to 
tell you that our nation's financial condition is worse than 
advertised. Anyone who says we can grow our way out of the problem 
doesn't know history well and probably wouldn't pass basic math. To 
grow our way out, we'd have to have sustained economic growth way 
beyond what we've ever seen in our nation's history. It's just not 
going to happen, and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we are 
likely to act. 

Historically, Americans have shrugged off warnings about deficit and 
debt problems. That's not surprising. Low interest rates and modest 
inflation have given many of us a false sense of security. It doesn't 
help that many politicians say, "Don't worry--be happy." This air of 
unreality has been reinforced by the government's financial statements 
and budget projections, which provide an incomplete and even misleading 
picture of where we are and where we're headed. 

Despite strong economic growth, in fiscal year 2005, the federal 
unified budget deficit was about $319 billion. The unified deficit 
dropped from $412 billion in 2004, but it's still imprudently high 
given that federal spending is set to rise dramatically when the baby 
boomers begin to retire later this decade. In addition, while the cash- 
based deficit went down about $90 billion in fiscal year 2005, the 
accrual-based deficit went up more than $140 billion to $760 billion 
that year. 

Our federal deficit numbers are big and bad, but it's the government's 
long-term liabilities and unfunded commitments that are the real 
problem. By commitments, I mean things like unfunded promises for 
future Social Security and Medicare benefits. Our total accumulated 
fiscal burden is now more than $46 trillion, up from about $20 trillion 
at the end of fiscal 2000. The new Medicare prescription drug benefit, 
which may be one of the most poorly designed, inefficiently 
implemented, and fiscally irresponsible government benefits of all 
time, represents more than $8 trillion of this accumulated burden. And 
these numbers don't even take into account the bills that are coming 
from rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast or the future costs 
associated with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism. 

To help put things into perspective, $46 trillion translates into a 
burden of $156,000 for every American alive today, or about $375,000 
per full-time worker. Even with the recent run-up in housing prices, 
the combined net worth of every American, including billionaires like 
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, is only about $50 trillion. That means 
every American would have to hand over more than 90 percent of their 
net worth to cover the government's current unfunded promises for 
future spending. 

Clearly, a crunch is coming, and eventually every federal program and 
service will take a hit. Our growing fiscal imbalance will also begin 
to take a toll on Main Street. If we continue as we have, higher 
interest rates and inflation are inevitable. It is only a matter of 
when and how high. As government is forced to borrow more and more 
money to finance its debt, less and less will be available for 
companies to invest to innovate, improve, and stay competitive. 
Eventually, long-term economic growth will suffer, and along with it 
American jobs, prestige, and purchasing power. 

The time to start doing something is now. For many of the challenges I 
mentioned, a few thoughtful reforms phased in over time will make a 
huge difference. And by acting sooner rather than later, we can 
minimize the need for drastic measures down the road and we can give 
everyone more time to adjust to any changes. Importantly, we can also 
fulfill our stewardship responsibility to future generations of 

Transforming Government: 

To keep pace with the challenges that are coming, our government must 
also change. For too long, the political process has been afflicted 
with myopia and tunnel vision. Nonetheless, the challenges I've 
mentioned aren't partisan issues. Frankly, in the future, we're all 
facing a menu of tough choices. 

To help restore fiscal discipline, we need to set realistic spending 
caps and impose pay-as-you-go rules on both the spending and the tax 
sides of the ledger. Members of Congress should also have more explicit 
information on the long-term costs of spending and tax bills--before 
they vote on them. The new Medicare prescription drug benefit has also 
become the poster child for having more accurate and more complete 
information before legislation is enacted. 

More broadly, I'd urge the leaders and managers of every federal agency 
and program to give careful thought to their mission and operations 
given 21st century changes and challenges. The problem is that much of 
government today remains on autopilot and is based on social, economic, 
national security, and other conditions that existed when Dwight 
Eisenhower and John Kennedy were in the White House. 

At the same time, government continues to expand, with new federal 
programs and initiatives added every year. Washington rarely seems to 
question the wisdom of existing federal activities. Ronald Reagan once 
said that "the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this 
earth is a government program." 

We need to ask a series of basic questions about what government does 
and how it does business. For example, what is the proper role of the 
federal government in the 21st century? How should it be organized? 
Should contractors or federal employees or some combination of the two 
provide basic services? How much will it cost? How should it be 

Nothing less than a top-to-bottom review of federal activities is 
needed to determine whether agencies are meeting their objectives. This 
will also help free up resources for other needs. Congress and the 
President need to decide which policies and programs remain priorities, 
which should be overhauled, and which have simply outlived their 

In particular, entitlement reform is essential. We need to restructure 
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and make these programs solvent 
and sustainable for future generations. We also need to reengineer the 
base of federal spending and tax policies. 

To help in this effort, GAO published last year a groundbreaking report 
that asks a series of probing, sometimes provocative, questions about 
both mandatory and discretionary spending and tax policy. GAO's report 
is called "21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal 
Government," and you can find it free on our Web site at 
In my view, this is must reading for anyone who's interested in public 
policy and our nation's future. My hope is that policymakers and the 
public will begin to think more strategically about where we are; where 
we're headed; and, more importantly, how we can get back on a more 
prudent path. 

I'm also hopeful that GAO's work will encourage the development of a 
set of key national indicators. These are quantitative and outcome- 
based measures that policymakers can use to better assess our nation's 
position and progress over time and relative to other nations on 
benchmark issues like public safety, health care, housing, and the 
environment. For years now, foreign governments and even some U.S. 
states and localities have been using indicators to successfully 
prioritize and target public resources. It's time for the U.S. 
government to do so. 

Transforming government isn't something that will happen overnight. 
Elected, appointed, and career officials will need to work together for 
a sustained period of time--perhaps a generation or longer. Public 
officials will need to reach across institutional and political lines. 
The federal government will need to partner with businesses, 
professional organizations, and nonprofit groups. It's going to take 
patience, persistence, perseverance, and even pain before we prevail in 
transforming government. But prevail we must. 

The New GAO: 

I'd like speak briefly about the efforts I've led to transform GAO. 
When I came to GAO seven years ago, the agency had been through a 
significant downsizing and was suffering from serious skills 
imbalances, succession planning challenges, and certain problems with 
our congressional clients. Fortunately, as Comptroller General, I serve 
a 15-year term of office, which has given me the opportunity to lead a 
range of internal changes designed to realign and reorganize our agency 
and workforce. In just seven years, by working together internally and 
with Congress, we've taken GAO from an "at-risk" agency to a "model 
agency"--one that's well-equipped to take on Congress' toughest 

GAO now has a strategic plan to help guide and coordinate the agency's 
efforts. The strategic plan defines our mission, incorporates our core 
values, lays out the key trends and themes that GAO will focus on, and 
outlines the agency's goals and objectives. We update the plan every 
couple of years to reflect changing congressional needs and national 

GAO's own strategic goals are ambitious but straightforward. We seek to 
produce positive and measurable outcome-based results for Congress and 
the American people. We also strive to meet the needs of our 
congressional clients. At the same time, we want to help reinvent 
government so that it continues to meet the needs of all Americans. And 
finally, GAO aspires to become a world-class professional services 
organization that just happens to be in the federal government. 

Focusing on results has also been a central part of GAO's 
transformation efforts. Since 2000, GAO has issued annual performance 
and accountability reports that inform Congress and the American people 
about GAO's accomplishments and its plans for the coming year. Our 
progress in meeting each strategic goal is also highlighted. For 
example, in fiscal year 2005, GAO's work produced nearly $40 billion in 
financial benefits. That's an $83 return on every dollar invested in 
GAO. Frankly, this type of straightforward cost/benefit reporting 
should be standard throughout government. In my view, the American 
people have a right to know what federal departments and agencies are 
achieving with the taxpayer dollars they've been given. 

Internally, GAO is now a flatter, more flexible, more results-oriented, 
more constructive, and more cooperative organization. We've transformed 
our human capital policies and practices to attract top talent and 
reward outstanding performance, and we're now a leader in this area in 
the federal government. We're working as a team to achieve common 
goals. Externally, GAO regularly partners with other government 
agencies and outside organizations dedicated to good government. If GAO 
can do it, others can too. 

Recently, GAO's transformation efforts have been the subject of major 
articles in both Government Executive and Government Leader magazines. 
GAO's transformation efforts have also been the subject of a case study 
by the IBM Business of Government Foundation. In May, we'll be profiled 
in an article in Harvard Business Review. 

Ethics and Integrity in Government: 

The simple but powerful truth is that effective government requires a 
first-rate workforce. Leaders can't do it alone. Their success depends 
on hiring a team with up-to-date knowledge, skills, and ability. But 
character also counts. It's essential that all team members have a well-
developed sense of right and wrong. You want people in public service 
with energy, enthusiasm, and empathy for others. You want people who 
are more concerned about the public good than personal gain. You also 
want people who understand that the law represents the floor of 
acceptable behavior and who set their sights higher. 

When I came to GAO in 1998, one of the first things I did was to 
introduce a set of three core values that define the nature of our 
work, convey the character of our people, and describe the quality of 
our products. Our three core values are accountability, integrity, and 
reliability. They're intended to supplement the requirements of the law 
and various professional standards. If you come to Washington, you'll 
see them over the entrance to GAO's headquarters. These core values are 
also in our hearts and minds. 

We have recent examples in the private sector that show what happens 
when individuals and institutions lack or stray from a set of core 
values. At Enron, Worldcom, and other companies, the unethical behavior 
of top executives, auditors, and other professionals led to 
bankruptcies and restatements that have harmed countless shareholders, 
employees, and retirees. People lost their investments, their jobs, and 
their pensions. Public confidence took a big hit, and it's going to 
take years to rebuild that trust. 

When it comes to improving government performance, strengthening 
accountability, and enhancing public trust, I take seriously my 
responsibility as Comptroller General to speak out. It's not always an 
easy job, and some people don't like truth and transparency. As Harry 
Truman once said when asked about his nickname, "Give 'Em Hell Harry," 
"I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought 
it was hell." I can assure you that GAO and I will continue to speak 
truth to power. 

Public Service: An Opportunity to Make a Difference: 

To tackle current and emerging problems, government needs first-rate 
talent, men and women who are able to think strategically and 
creatively. I know many of you here tonight are recent or future 
graduates of Brigham Young University's highly regarded Marriott 
School. I hope you'll seriously consider public service as a way to 
make a difference--for your country, community, church, and family. 
Public service is also a chance to make a difference in yourself and 

As someone who has divided his career between government and the 
private sector, I can tell you that my experience at federal agencies 
has been challenging, enlightening, and rewarding. Before coming to 
GAO, I was an executive in several private sector firms, including 
Arthur Andersen. I also served as a trustee of Social Security and 
Medicare, was an Assistant Secretary of Labor, and headed the Pension 
Benefit Guaranty Corporation. My public sector experiences gave me a 
chance to contribute and to help real people, people like the students 
on this campus, retirees like your grandparents, and veterans who have 
fought to defend this country. 

Opting for public service is an honorable choice. It offers a chance to 
make peoples' lives better and their futures brighter. Public service 
is a calling where individuals and organizations can help build a 
better future for this great nation and for our world. 

One person can make a difference. My favorite President, Theodore 
Roosevelt, is proof of that. TR, as he's often called, was someone with 
character, conscience, and conviction. As our 26th and youngest 
president, he was an optimist who firmly believed in the potential of 
government to improve the lives of all its citizens. As a trustbuster, 
TR took on some of the nation's most powerful and ethically challenged 
corporate interests. And he won. As an environmentalist, TR left us a 
legacy of great national parks like Yosemite and Natural Bridges 
National Monument here in Utah. As an internationalist, TR promoted the 
building of the Panama Canal and led peace talks to end the Russo- 
Japanese war. TR is also the only American to have won both the 
Congressional Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize. 

The Theodore Roosevelts and the George Romneys of this world are tough 
acts to follow. But the truth is that today, meaningful change is more 
likely to come from the combined efforts of many individuals. All of us 
have to be part of the solution. It's no accident that the Constitution 
begins with the words, "We the People." 

My hope is that when you leave here today, you'll spread the word among 
your friends and family about the challenges we're facing. We all need 
to insist on the facts, speak the truth, lead by example, and help 
create a more positive future by fulfilling our stewardship 
responsibilities to our country, our children, and our grandchildren. 
We can, we must, and if people like you and me join together, I am 
convinced we will succeed. As TR said, "Fighting for the right [cause] 
is the noblest sport the world affords." Let's join the fight and make 
a difference! 

On the Web: 

Web site: [Hyperlink,]: 


Paul Anderson, Managing Director, Public Affairs,, 
(202) 512-4800, U.S. Government Accountability Office, 441 G Street NW, 
Room 7149, Washington, D.C. 20548: 


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