This is the accessible text file for CG speech number GAO-07-887CG 
entitled 'Keeping America Great: Doing Your Part' which was released on 
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Presentation by the Honorable David M. Walker: 
Comptroller General of the United States: 

Keeping America Great: Doing Your Part: 

Commencement Address before the Kogod School of Business and the School 
of Public Affairs: 
American University: 
Washington, D.C. 
May 13, 2007: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


President Kerwin, distinguished members of the Board of Trustees and 
faculty, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen. It's an honor to be 
with you today. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address you 
and for awarding me an honorary degree. I'd also like to extend a warm 
Mother's Day greeting to all the mothers here today, including my wife, 
Mary, and my daughter, Carol. 

First and foremost, congratulations to each and every graduate and to 
your families on your significant accomplishment. Earning a college 
degree is one of life's major milestones. And you're fortunate to be 
graduating from "The American University." 

I recognize the hard work and dedication your degrees represent. 
Obviously, the degree that I just received is honorary, so yours cost a 
lot more than mine did! Even so, I want you to know I also take great 
pride in receiving a degree today. 

Lately, I've been speaking out about our nation's future. So far this 
year, I've appeared on a number of major radio and television programs 
to talk about the growing fiscal challenge facing America. You may have 
heard me on the Diane Rehm Show or perhaps you saw me on the CBS news 
program 60 Minutes or on Comedy Central's Colbert Report. The facts 
don't change during these appearances, but the means and messages do, 
depending on the venue and target audience. 

My agency, the Government Accountability Office, is in the truth and 
transparency business. Or as Stephen Colbert would say, we're all about 
"truthiness." As the so-called investigative arm of Congress, GAO is in 
the oversight, insight, and foresight business. We "speak truth to 
power," and we try to make government work better and for the benefit 
of all Americans. By the way, I really appreciate all the graduates 
wearing "GAO blue" colored robes for today's commencement!  

In my view, it's important to state the facts and speak the truth to 
the American people in connection with our fiscal situation and other 
important public policy issues. Too many television and radio programs 
today are essentially "fact-free zones," full of opinion, ideological 
rhetoric, and partisan spin. In America, we believe in free speech. As 
a result, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion but not his or her 
own facts. The facts are neither blue nor red. In reality, facts are 
colorless and should be transparent. 

Today, I'm pleased and honored to spend a few minutes speaking to you 
on the importance of keeping America great. I firmly believe that each 
of us can play a part to help ensure that our individual and collective 
future is better than our past. After all, our nation's future is what 
you and I and our fellow citizens make of it. 

From a personal perspective, while the Walker family has been in 
America since the 1600s, to my knowledge, I'm only the second person in 
my Walker line to have graduated from college. Before my father, most 
of the Walkers were mineworkers, farmers, or ministers. In fact, at 
least one of my ancestors was a Methodist minister and circuit rider. 
As you know, the Methodist Church founded this university. Despite my 
family's modest beginnings, I now have the good fortune of being the 
seventh Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. 
Only in America!  

In America, individuals with a good education, a positive attitude, a 
strong work ethic, and solid moral and ethical values have virtually 
unlimited potential! That means if you have a good education, your 
future is largely in your hands. Your degree from American University 
is a great start. The rest is up to you!  

From a broader perspective, clearly America is a great country, 
possibly the greatest in history. We've risen from one of many colonies 
ruled by England to become the world's only current superpower. We're 
the longest-standing republic on Earth and a beacon of liberty for the 
rest of the world. Those Americans like myself who have traveled 
extensively overseas know that while our country is far from perfect, 
in general, we have it pretty good today. Yes, Americans have much to 
be proud of and much to be thankful for. 

America is number one in many things but not all things. As a result, 
while Americans have a right to be proud, we should never be arrogant. 
Unfortunately, the world has seen more than a little American arrogance 
of late, both domestically and internationally. That must change. After 
all, whether we're talking about safeguarding public health, protecting 
the environment, or combating international terrorism, the United 
States can't go it alone. We're going to have to partner for progress 
on these and other types of issues, which have no geopolitical 

Let there be no doubt, America's true strength is its people. America 
is a very diverse nation, and our diversity is a great asset--an asset 
we have yet to fully capitalize on. Despite our diversity, we Americans 
are united by our belief in equal opportunity. Through perseverance and 
hard work, any of us can achieve a better life. Our love of freedom is 
equaled only by our devotion to faith and family. 

While America is a great nation, we face a range of large and growing 
sustainability challenges that too few policymakers are taking 
seriously. In so many areas--fiscal policy, foreign policy, health 
care, education, energy, the environment, immigration, and Iraq--we're 
on an unsustainable path. I'll briefly touch on three of these areas to 
prove my point. 

First, since America's most valuable asset is its people, I'll start 
with education. The United States now has the best higher education 
system in the world. All of you are the beneficiaries of that system. 

Unfortunately, we're not even in the top 20 nations in math and science 
scores at the high-school level. This represents a huge problem in a 
knowledge-based economy. If our country expects to maintain its 
standard of living, we're going to have to stay competitive on measures 
like innovation, productivity, and product quality. Fixing our K-12 
education system will require radical reform and concerted efforts by 
all levels of government and all sectors of our economy. We must move 
beyond rhetoric and start delivering real results for a broader 
spectrum of the American population. 

Second, our nation's fiscal outlook. While short-term federal deficits 
are coming down, we face large and growing longer-range deficits and 
debt burdens due primarily to the retirement of the baby boom 
generation and rising health care costs. The retirement of the boomers 
will begin next year, and when boomers begin to retire en masse it will 
bring a tsunami of spending that could swamp our ship of state. 

To help save our future, we must impose tough budget controls, reform 
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and reprioritize and constrain 
other spending. We also need to engage in comprehensive tax reform that 
will not undercut our economic growth or competitive advantage while 
raising additional revenues. We must do all of these things, and the 
sooner the better because time is working against us and our debt clock 
is ticking. 

Finally, while many of you graduates think that Social Security won't 
be around when you retire, you're wrong. It will be reformed, and 
hopefully sooner rather than later. Our real problem is Medicare and 
health care in general. Our health care system is badly broken. We're 
now number one in the world in health care spending and obesity--facts 
that don't bode well for our wallets or our waistlines. Despite 
spending huge amounts on medical care, the United States has above 
average infant mortality, below average life expectancy, and much 
higher than average medical error rates for an industrialized nation. 
We also have the largest percentage of uninsured individuals of any 
major nation. It's pretty clear we're not getting very good value for 
our health care dollars. Frankly, if there's one thing that could 
bankrupt America, it's health care costs. 

Comprehensive health care reform will probably need to occur in 
installments over a number of years. Our goals should be fourfold: 
First, provide universal access to basic and essential health care. 
Second, impose limits on federal spending for health care. Third, 
implement national medical practice standards to improve quality, 
control costs, and reduce litigation risks while avoiding heroic 
measures. And finally, take steps to ensure that all Americans assume 
more personal responsibility and accountability for their own health 
and wellness. 

You may be saying, why is he telling me about these challenges? All I 
want to do is take off this cap, get my diploma, and party on! My point 
is that these challenges, along with several others, are going to 
profoundly affect your future and the future of your families. One 
thing is clear: Young people will pay the price and bear the burden if 
others fail to act to address our mounting fiscal burden and other 
sustainability challenges. More importantly, I'm talking about these 
challenges because you and your peers represent the future leaders of 
our country! As a result, you are our greatest hope for bringing about 

Unfortunately, many institutions and individuals in America today 
suffer from several afflictions. Myopia, tunnel vision, and self- 
centeredness just to name three. Too many people are focused on the 
word "me" rather than the word "we." Too many people are focused on 
what they want today rather than what they need to do to help ensure a 
better future. And too many people are focused on their own narrow 
interests rather than the greater good. 

Ignorance, apathy, and arrogance can be fatal when it comes to a nation 
and its people. The Roman Republic provided us with some important 
lessons in this regard over 1,500 years ago. 

Let us not forget, the Roman Republic fell for many reasons, but three 
seem to resonate today. First, a decline in moral values and political 
civility at home. Second, an overconfident and overextended military in 
foreign lands. Third, fiscal irresponsibility by the central 
government. Sound familiar? We must learn from history and make sure 
that we are the first republic to stand the test of time. 

In our constitutional democracy, it's "we the people" who are 
ultimately responsible and accountable for what does or does not happen 
in the capitals around our country. As a result, all of us must be 
informed and involved in order to make a difference. We must not 
forget, God put each of us on this earth to serve our fellow man and to 
make a difference for others. 

As you look to the future, each of you needs to search your head and 
your heart to decide not only what you're going to do in life, but also 
what difference you are going to make in the lives of others. This is 
one of life's most important decisions. 

When you search your head and heart in your pursuit of happiness, don't 
forget your communities, your country, and your fellow man. To help 
build a better future, I ask that each of you dedicate at least two 
years of your life to serving others. This request applies to all of 
you, whether you are an American or from one of the many other 
countries represented here today. 

When you consider your public service options, remember that the U.S. 
government is the largest, the most diverse, and arguably the most 
important entity on the face of the earth. We need top talent in the 
federal government to successfully address our many sustainability 
challenges. Yes, the federal government needs men and women with skills 
in public affairs, business, and other fields from top universities 
like American University. 

I also ask that each of you become more informed about the issues 
facing our nation and more involved in demanding change. It's time we 
held current and prospective elected officials accountable for 
upholding their fiduciary and stewardship responsibilities to our 
country and its citizens. 

In closing, every person can make a difference in this world. As one of 
my favorite Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, said, "Fighting for the right 
[cause] is the noblest sport the world affords." All of you should find 
your cause in life and fight to make a difference. I'll continue to try 
and do my part. All that I ask is that you do your best to do your part 
to keep America great. We can, we must, and, with your help, we will do 
what it takes to keep America great!  

Congratulations again on your graduation. May God bless each of you, 
American University, and the United States of America. 

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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reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission 
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if you wish to reproduce this material separately.