Making A Difference in Life:

Jacksonville University Commencement Ceremony

GAO-06-1035CG: Published: May 6, 2006. Publicly Released: May 6, 2006.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General before Jacksonville University, in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 6, 2006. From a national perspective, while the United States is currently the only superpower on earth, at least one more country will join us by 2020. And while we may be number one at some things, I'm sad to say that we are below average among the world's industrialized nations on a range of economic, social, and environmental outcome-based statistics. For example, the United States, which gave the world Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Jonas Salk, and Bill Gates, now ranks 22nd and 25th in the world on science and math test scores, respectively. We can and must do better. Our nation also faces a range of emerging challenges, including a very serious and growing fiscal imbalance that could swamp our ship of state if we don't get serious soon. For example, in fiscal year 2005, the federal budget deficit was around $318 billion on a cash basis and a record $760 billion on an accrual basis; $760 billion translates into an over $2 billion deficit each day and expenses of $125 for each dollar of revenue. As scary as these numbers are, it's the U.S. government's long-term commitments that are the real problem. I'm talking about things like promises for future Social Security and Medicare benefits and a range of other unfunded commitments and contingencies. Last year, the estimated future costs for these items exceeded $46 trillion, up from about $20 trillion just five years ago.

What does this mean for you and me? The fact is that every full-time worker in this country now faces a financial burden of $375,000, and that burden is growing every second, of every minute, of every day. When it comes to entitlement reform and other key issues, it's clear that our elected officials need to start making some tough but necessary choices, and soon. Otherwise, you and your children will pay an even higher price and bear even greater burdens in the years ahead. To address this and other challenges and capitalize on related opportunities, we need to overcome the triple threats of ignorance, apathy, and inaction. Unfortunately, these three conditions are currently very prevalent within the public, and especially among many younger people. The truth is that we're going to need top talent from your generation to help us overcome our many challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Ultimately, each of us needs to do what we can to ensure that the three most powerful words in the Constitution come alive. Those three words are "We the People." After all, in our republic, the citizens bear the ultimate responsibility for what does or does not happen in Washington and the various state capitals around the country. If each of us does his or her part and encourages others to do theirs, our future and the future of our families and our country can be even brighter than it is today. If we don't, we'll all pay a big price. Namely, we'll face slower economic growth, a lower standard of living, and even possible threats to our long-term national security.

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