This is the accessible text file for CG speech number GAO-07-192CG 
entitled 'The Privilege of Public Service' which was released on 
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Presentation by: 

The Honorable David M. Walker: 

Comptroller General of the United States: 

The Privilege of Public Service: 

Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership Ceremony American 
University School of Public Affairs Washington, D.C. October 24, 2006: 


United States Government Accountability Office: 

Thank you, Bob Tobias, for that kind introduction. 

I'm pleased and honored to be here this evening. I'm a big believer in 
public service, so speaking at an event like this that recognizes 
outstanding public servants means a lot to me. First, I'd like to 
congratulate our two awardees tonight: Dave Altwegg, of the Missile 
Defense Agency (MDA), and Bill Gimson, of the Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention (CDC). In your roles as the defacto Chief 
Operating Officer (COO) or Chief Management Official (CMO) for your 
respective agency, both of you have shown how things can and should be 
done to make a difference in government. It's a great testament to Bill 
and Dave that their CEOs, Julie Geberding and Lieutenant General 
Obering, are here tonight. 

I'd also like to acknowledge the Government Accountability Office's 
(GAO) strong ties to the Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership. 
Chuck Bowsher, my predecessor as Comptroller General, chairs the 
selection committee, and Jacquie Williams-Bridgers, who's in charge of 
GAO's international affairs and trade area, also serve on the 
committee. In years past, Elmer Staats, who was Comptroller General 
back before Chuck and me, is also an emeritus member of the committee. 

I have great admiration for all of them. By helping government run more 
economically, effectively, ethically, and equitably, Elmer, Chuck, 
Jacquie, and many other GAO employees have made--and continue to make-
-a real difference on behalf of the American people. 

The namesake of this award, Roger Jones, also had a distinguished 
career in government, one that spanned many decades and a number of 
major departments and agencies. In particular, Roger Jones was known as 
a champion of education for federal managers and executives, and he 
received a number of high honors for his efforts to improve the quality 
of public administration. 

During my tenure as the head of three federal agencies, I've found that 
outstanding public servants share certain traits: great vision, solid 
values, and a deep commitment to the mission of their agency. They 
understand that working for the greater good is life's highest calling. 
Over my career, I've worked many years in both the public and the 
private sectors, and I've always considered public service not a job 
but a privilege and an opportunity to make our country and our world a 
better place. 

Today, we need more public officials who feel that way. We need more 
men and women who are willing to speak the truth, face the facts, do 
the right thing, and make changes and choices necessary to help create 
a better tomorrow. We need more men and women who can help our country 
and its citizens prepare for the challenges of the 21st century and 
capitalize on emerging opportunities. We need more men and women who 
have the courage to put the needs of the next generation ahead of the 
next election cycle. Because, at the end of the day, we should all 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. 

With the retirement of the baby boomers and rising health care costs, 
we're facing a fiscal challenge unprecedented in American history. At 
the same time, our world is experiencing dramatic changes on several 
fronts, from the economy to the environment to public health and 
national security. 

Unfortunately, our elected officials have not done enough to prepare us 
for this reality. This is particularly true with our nation's finances 
and our government's continuing lack of fiscal discipline. But so far, 
there's been little meaningful change in direction or shared sacrifice. 
Candidly, we've heard a lot of rhetoric but seen too few results when 
it comes to our fiscal imbalance and other major challenges. 

There are, however, exceptions to this lack of results in connection 
with transforming government. We are honoring two of those exceptions 
tonight, Bill and Dave, along with their chief executive officers 
(CEOs), are making changes at CDC and MDA. 

Tonight, I'm going to talk more about why it's so urgent that we 
transform government. I'll also examine the key role that ethics and 
integrity need to play in public administration and why public service 
and public servants are so important to our country's future. 

Transforming Government: 

To keep pace with the challenges that are coming, our government must 
also change. Government transformation is essential. In my view, the 
first order of business is to restore fiscal discipline. Washington 
needs to face facts and improve transparency over where we are 
financially and where we're headed fiscally. 

To help restore fiscal discipline, among other things, we need to 
impose meaningful budget controls on both the tax and the spending 
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. With its $8 trillion price tag, the Medicare 
prescription drug benefit is a glaring example of what's wrong with the 
current system. 

More broadly, too 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 

As a nation, we need to ask some basic questions about what government 
does and how it does business. How should government be organized? 
Should contractors or federal employees carry out its missions? How 
much will it cost, and how will we pay for it? 

Nothing less than a top-to-bottom review of federal activities is 
needed to determine whether agencies are meeting their objectives. 
Congress and the President should decide which policies and programs 
remain priorities, which should be overhauled, and which have simply 
outlived their usefulness. 

To give you one example in the tax area: Just this summer, the U.S. 
government announced it will stop collecting a 3 percent tax on long- 
distance telephone calls. This doesn't seem particularly startling 
until you realize the tax had been introduced in 1898 to help pay for 
the Spanish-American War--a conflict that last only a few months! 

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. 

To help in this effort, GAO has published 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 the future and how we can get back on a more prudent path. 

While key policymakers have a lot of work to do, so do career civil 
servants, especially members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). 
Political appointees come and go, and the vast majority of them never 
have to eat what they cook up, whether it's good or bad. On the other 
hand, career SES members have the institutional knowledge and the 
perspective to help lead this much-needed and long overdue 
transformation effort. 

We need capable career executives to help lead this fight because the 
stakes are very high. It's time to reconsider our approach to political 
appointments. We also need to recognize the differences among policy, 
operational, and adjudicatory type executive level positions. At major 
entities like the Defense Department or the Department of Homeland 
Security, we also need to hire COOs and CMOs with proven track records. 
These positions should be term appointments that focus full-time on 
business transformation issues that are both important and nonpartisan 
in nature. 

Ethics and Integrity in Government: 

The simple but powerful truth is that effective government requires a 
first-rate workforce, which brings me back to our event here tonight. 
To tackle current and emerging problems, government needs men and women 
who are able to think strategically, creatively, and decisively. I know 
that at GAO and many other federal agencies, we're recruiting 
individuals with very impressive credentials, individuals who have 
knowledge and skills that were unknown a generation ago. But character 
also counts. Federal employees need to have a well-developed sense of 
right and wrong. You want people in public service with energy, 
ability, enthusiasm, strong ethical standards, and empathy for others. 
You also want people who are more concerned about the public good than 
personal gain. 

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 that apply to us. You can see these 
core values over the entrance to GAO's headquarters here in Washington. 
More important, they are in the heads and hearts of our people, and 
they guide how we do business every day. 

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 some 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. 

Public Service: An Opportunity to Make a Difference: 

I know many of you here tonight are recent or future graduates of 
American University's highly regarded School of Public Affairs. I hope 
you'll seriously consider public service as a way to make a difference-
-for your country, community, church, family, and fellow citizens. 

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. In my 33 years of 
public and private sector experience, I've found the federal workers 
I've had the privilege to lead have been as good as or better than 
employees in the private sector. These public servants have generally 
been far more committed to mission. 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. You have the opportunity to do 
the same. 

As I said earlier, public service is a privilege. It's 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 our nation and our world. 

One person can make a difference. My favorite modern 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. 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, Chuck Bowshers, and Roger Joneses of this 
world can be tough acts to follow. But the truth is that while it 
matters who's in the CEO slot, meaningful and lasting change tends to 
come from the combined efforts of many individuals, at both levels, 
both inside and outside your organization. Today, all of us have to be 
part of the solution. It's no accident that the Constitution begins 
with the words, "We the people." We need to be sure that these words 
come alive if we want to maintain a healthy democracy. 

In closing, the two people we're honoring this evening represent 
qualities that are essential to the future of the civil service. 
Government transformation isn't going to happen without people like 
David Altwegg and William Gimson. I often say that people are 
government's most important asset, and people will determine whether 
our government keeps pace with changing times and delivers real results 
that meet the needs of the modern age. To succeed, we're going to need 
more elected, appointed, and career government leaders with courage, 
integrity, creativity, and a commitment to stewardship. 

If we work together, I'm convinced that, over time, we will succeed in 
better positioning our government and our nation for the future. As TR 
said, "Fighting for the right [cause] is the noblest sport the world 
affords." Please join me in this effort to fight the good fight for our 
country, our children, and our grandchildren. Let's work together to 
make sure that our best years are ahead of us rather than in the past. 

Thank you. 

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: 


This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright 
protection in the United States. The published product may be 
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission 
from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or 
other material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary 
if you wish to reproduce this material separately.