Overview: Federal Debt and the Fiscal Outlook
GAO's federal simulations show that absent policy changes, the federal government faces a rapid and unsustainable growth in debt. Simulations of the state and local government sector show that not only the federal government faces fiscal challenges that will have a profound effect on government over the coming decades. A growing imbalance between revenue and spending is driven on the spending side by rising health care costs and the aging population, which in turn will lead to a rapid increase in spending on retirement and health programs.
In light of these challenges, GAO works to provide Congress and the public with updated analysis on the fiscal outlook for the federal government and for the state and local government sector and with answers to key questions about federal debt.
What is the Federal Debt?
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The Federal Government's Long-Term Fiscal Outlook
GAO's simulations of the federal government's long-term fiscal outlook provide a broad context for consideration of policy options by illustrating the importance of taking action and the magnitude of the steps necessary to change the nation's path. read more >>
Note: Data are from GAO's Spring 2013 simulation based on the Trustees' assumptions for Social Security and Medicare.
The State and Local Government's Fiscal Outlook
GAO's simulations show the size of the fiscal challenges that confront the state and local sector, and highlight the sector's key fiscal pressures. read more >>
Source: GAO simulations, updated April 2012.
Measuring the Deficit: Cash vs. Accrual
This primer explains how two key indicators can be used together to provide a more comprehensive picture of the federal government's fiscal condition today and over time. read more >>
Source: Unaudited Department of the Treasury data from the Financial Reports.
Federal Debt: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Information about the basics of federal debt, who owns debt, how Treasury manages debt, and key policy considerations. read more >>
Source: GAO analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), The 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook, September 2013 (Supplemental Data).
Notes: For years 1797-1939, year refers to calendar year. For years 1940-2012, year refers to fiscal year. CBO notes they estimated gross domestic product (GDP) from several sources. Data from 1929 onward reflect revisions to the estimates of GDP that the Bureau of Economic Analysis released in July 2013.