21st Century Challenges:

Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government

GAO-05-352T: Published: Feb 16, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2005.

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This report stems from the recognition that the Congress faces a daunting challenge: the need to bring government and its programs in line with 21st century realities. This challenge has many related pieces: addressing the nation's large and growing long-term fiscal gap; deciding on the appropriate role and size of the federal government--and how to finance that government--and bringing the panoply of federal activities into line with today's world. The reexamination questions discussed in this report are drawn primarily from the work GAO has done for the Congress over the years. Many of these questions do not represent immediate crises, however many pose important longer-term threats to the country's fiscal and economic, and national security as well as the quality of life for our children and grandchildren.

GAO describes the forces at work, the challenges they present, and the 21st century questions they prompt, in each of 12 broad areas based in large measure on functional areas in the federal budget, but also including governmentwide issues and the revenue side of the budget. These areas include (1) long-term fiscal challenges; (2) policy frameworks, such as the aging population and increasing global interdependence; (3) changing security threats; and (4) governance challenges. The size of the fiscal challenge and the significance of the societal and economic changes worldwide means this kind of examination and the hard choices necessary to restore a sustainable fiscal path and modernize government may take a generation to address.

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