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entitled 'The Need for Leadership and Stewardship: 21st Century 
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Presentation by The Honorable David M. Walker: 
Comptroller General of the United States: 

"The Need for Leadership and Stewardship: 21st Century Challenges and 

The Getzen lecture in Accountability: 

Speech before the School of Public and International affairs: The 
University of Georgia: 
February 8, 2006: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


I am honored to be here this afternoon to deliver the first Getzen 
Government Accountability Lecture. As many of you know, this lecture is 
named for Dr. Forrest William Getzen and his wife, Evangeline, two 
lifelong advocates of education and public service. Dr. Getzen was a 
chemistry professor at North Carolina State University, and Mrs. Getzen 
was a career civil servant in state government. I'd like to thank their 
daughter, Katherine Willoughby, who's a professor of public 
administration at Georgia State University, and her husband, Dan, for 
their generosity in establishing this lecture series. I hope that I 
live up to your expectations! 

Discussions about accountability in government all too often focus on 
infuriating cases of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. Recently, 
my agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported on 
billions of dollars in so-called "performance bonuses" on weapon 
systems that are over budget, behind schedule, and underperforming. 
We've also been investigating billion-dollar contracts in Iraq and 
elsewhere in which contractors have been able to effectively set the 
scope of their work. Furthermore, we're finding that a number of major 
Hurricane Katrina-related contracts and assistance payments don't pass 
the "straight face test." 

I want to be clear here. We should have zero tolerance for waste, 
fraud, abuse, and mismanagement even though it will never be zero in an 
entity the size of the U.S. government. But candidly, we could 
eliminate every dollar of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in 
government and we'd still face serious accountability challenges. 

For example, where's the accountability for spending increases and tax 
cuts that are unaffordable and unsustainable over time? Where's the 
accountability for spending programs and tax policies that can't show 
they're delivering real results? Where's the accountability for federal 
activities that are rooted in the past and no longer meet current, let 
alone future, needs? Where's the accountability for thousands of 
earmarks, or congressional pet projects, at a time of huge budget 
deficits? Finally, where's the accountability for public officials who 
do what is arguably legal rather than what is ethically and morally 
right? Is it really any wonder that our federal accountability 
challenges have gone from millions to billions to trillions of dollars? 

At the same time, it's all too easy to lose sight of the biggest 
accountability problem in government today. And that's the continuing 
unwillingness of policymakers to face the facts, to take a long-term 
perspective, to prepare our country and its citizens for the challenges 
that lie ahead, and to start addressing a range of large, known, and 
growing problems. Many of these challenges are unprecedented in their 
scope, complexity, and potential impact. As I'll point out later, there 
are also opportunities connected with some of these issues, but there 
are also serious risks that can and must be managed. 

This afternoon, I'm going to talk more about some of these challenges 
to give you a better sense of where we're headed. I'll then explain why 
we must transform government to meet those challenges, and I'll present 
some possible ways forward. As a case study, I'll briefly describe the 
continuing efforts of GAO to lead by example and better serve Congress 
and the American people. Finally, I'm going to discuss how public 
service offers patriotic men and women a chance to make a difference 
and help create a better future for all of us. 

21st Century Challenges: 

Today, we're entering a world that's vastly different from what it was 
50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. The unusually prosperous and 
perhaps more predictable way of life that came after the Second World 
War is fast drawing to a close. The signs are everywhere now, 
especially in our economy. The financial problems at GM and Delta 
Airlines, along with the pension freezes at Verizon, Motorola, and IBM, 
are just the most recent reminders of how quickly things are changing. 
Our increasing personal and public debt loads and the growing economic 
gaps between the haves and the have-nots, both here at home and around 
the world, are also clouding our horizon. 

Given recent trends and known future challenges, each of us as an 
individual, along with our elected representatives, needs to start 
taking greater responsibility for our own as well as our country's 
future. Make no mistake--this will require difficult decisions and some 
degree of sacrifice. But it's essential that we act, and act soon. 
What's at stake is our future economic growth, our future international 
prestige and competitiveness, our future standard of living, and even 
our future national security. 

What are these changes and challenges? Let me start with possibly the 
most sweeping agent of change, and that's demographics. Changing 
demographics will decisively shape the America of 2020, 2030, and 
beyond. Our population is aging. At the same time, our population is 
becoming far more diverse. Walk into an elementary school in a major 
U.S. city and you'll see students who come from homes that speak every 
conceivable language, from Spanish to Vietnamese to Arabic. 

Despite increased immigration, U.S. workforce growth is expected to 
slow dramatically during the next 50 years. Like most industrialized 
nations, the United States will have fewer full-time workers paying 
taxes and contributing to federal social insurance programs. At the 
same time, growing numbers of retirees will be claiming their Social 
Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. Many of these retirees will 
live far longer than their parents and grandparents. Today, there about 
55,000 Americans who are 100 years old or older. By 2050, as many as a 
million Americans may have reached this milestone. In a nutshell, the 
retirement of the baby boomers, and I'm one of them, is going to put 
unprecedented demands on both our public and private pension and health 
care systems. 

The problem is that in the coming decades, there simply aren't going to 
be enough full-time workers to promote strong economic growth or to 
sustain promised Social Security benefits. And the challenges facing 
Medicare and Medicaid are much worse. At the same time, American 
companies are cutting back the retirement benefits they're offering to 
workers. This means if we hope to live well during our "golden years," 
all of us are going to have to plan better, save more, invest more 
wisely, and resist the temptation to withdraw funds before we retire. 

Beyond demographics, the United States confronts a range of other 
challenges. Globalization is at the top of that list. Markets, 
technologies, and businesses in various countries and in various parts 
of the world are increasingly linked, and communication across 
continents and oceans is now instantaneous. From clothing to computers, 
U.S. consumers can buy a range of goods that are cheaper than ever 
before. Consumer purchasing power has increased significantly. But 
there's a catch. In many cases, lower prices have been accompanied by a 
loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. 

Gobalization is also having an impact in areas like the environment and 
public health. The truth is that air and water pollution don't stop at 
the border. And with today's international air travel, infectious 
diseases can spread from one continent to another literally overnight. 
This is one reason that public health experts are so concerned these 
days about avian flu. 

With the end of the Cold War, we face new security threats, including 
transnational terrorist networks and rogue nations armed with weapons 
of mass destruction. September 11 brought this reality home in a 
painful way. Stronger multinational partnerships will be essential to 
counter these diverse and diffuse threats. 

Other challenges come from technology. In the past 100 years, but 
especially the last 25 years, spectacular advances in technology have 
transformed everything from how we do business to how we communicate to 
how we treat and cure diseases. Our society has moved from the 
industrial age to the information age, where specialized knowledge and 
skills are the keys to success. Unfortunately, the United States--which 
gave the world Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates--now 
ranks 25th in the world based on high school math and science test 

In many respects, our quality of life has never been better. We're 
living longer, we're better educated, and we're more likely to own our 
own homes. But as many of you already know from your own families, we 
also face a range of quality-of-life concerns. These include poor 
public schools, gridlocked city streets, inadequate health care 
coverage, and the stresses of caring for aging parents and possibly our 
own children at the same time. 

Our very prosperity is also placing greater demands on our physical 
infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be needed to modernize 
everything from highways and airports to water and sewage systems. The 
demands for such new investment will increasingly compete with other 
national priorities. 

Our Worsening Finances: 

Perhaps the most urgent challenge is our nation's worsening financial 
condition and growing long-term fiscal imbalance. Largely because of 
the aging of the baby boomers and rising health care costs, America 
faces decades of red ink. The facts on this aren't in question. Given 
our worsening financial outlook, the government's recent spending 
sprees and deep tax cuts are nothing less than a body blow to overall 
fiscal responsibility. 

Despite what some say, deficits do matter--especially if they're large 
and structural in nature. As a CPA and the federal official who signs 
off on the audit of the government's consolidated financial statements, 
I'm here to tell you that our nation's financial condition is worse 
than advertised. Frankly, the government's business model is broken and 
it's time we fixed it. 

Anyone who says we can grow our way out of the problem wouldn't pass 
Economics 101 or basic math. To grow our way out, we'd have to have 
sustained economic growth way beyond what we've ever seen in our 
nation's history. It's just not going to happen, and the sooner we 
recognize that reality, the sooner we are likely to act. 

Despite strong economic growth, in fiscal year 2004, the federal 
unified budget deficit reached a record $412 billion. The unified 
deficit dropped to $319 billion in 2005, but even that number is 
imprudently high given that that federal spending will begin to rise 
dramatically when the baby boomers begin to retire later this decade. 
Many of you would probably be surprised to learn that the global war on 
terrorism and incremental homeland security expenses accounted for only 
about $100 billion of our annual deficits in 2004 and 2005. And while 
the unified budget deficit fell more than $90 billion from 2004 to 
2005, the accrual-based deficit increased $144 billion from $616 
billion to $760 billion during that same period. 

While our federal deficit numbers are big and bad, it's the 
government's long-term liabilities and unfunded commitments that are 
the real problem. I'm talking about things like the current dollar 
value of unfunded promises for future Social Security and Medicare 
benefits, commitments relating to military and civilian retirement 
benefits, costly environmental cleanups, and potential bailouts of 
government-sponsored enterprises like the Pension Benefit Guaranty 
Corporation and the Federal Flood Insurance Program. Together, these 
items now total over $46 trillion, up from about $20 trillion in 2000. 
The new Medicare prescription drug benefit, which is turning out to be 
one of the most poorly designed, ineffectively managed, and fiscally 
irresponsible government benefits of all time, has added more than $8 
trillion to this mountain of red ink. And these numbers don't even take 
into the bills that are coming from rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf 
Coast or the future costs associated with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the 
global war on terrorism. 

To help put this number into perspective, $46 trillion translates into 
a burden of $156,000 for every American alive today, including newborn 
babies. The burden per full-time worker is even higher, about $375,000. 
Even with the recent run-up in housing prices, the combined net worth 
of every American, including billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren 
Buffet, is only about $50 trillion. That means everyone in this room 
would have to hand over more than 90 percent of their net worth to 
cover the government's current unfunded promises for future spending. 
Unfortunately, this burden is going up every day because of continuing 
deficits, known demographics, and compounding interest costs. 

Clearly, a crunch is coming, and eventually every federal program and 
service will take a hit. Our growing fiscal imbalance will also begin 
to take a toll on Main Street. If we continue as we have, higher 
interest rates and inflation are inevitable. It is only a matter of 
when and how high. As government is forced to borrow more and more 
money to finance its debt, less will be available for companies to 
invest to innovate, improve, and stay competitive. Eventually, long- 
term economic growth will suffer, and along with it American jobs and 
purchasing power. And, as we all know, bad news flows downhill, and 
eventually state and local governments will start feeling the federal 
government's fiscal pain. 

If things continue as they have, it's only a matter of time before we 
face a crisis. And at that point, we won't have many options and we'll 
have less transition time. Many choices, in fact, will have already 
been made for us. 

The time to start doing something is now. For many of the challenges I 
mentioned, a few thoughtful reforms phased in over time will make a 
huge difference. And by acting sooner rather than later, we can 
minimize the need for drastic measures down the road while giving 
people more time to adjust to any changes. Importantly, we can also 
fulfill our stewardship responsibility to future generations of 

Transforming Government: 

As a first step in addressing our mounting fiscal challenges, we need 
to follow the rule of holes. What do I mean by the rule of holes? It's 
simple: Before you can get yourself out of hole, you first need to stop 
digging! We also need a fiscal version of the Hippocratic Oath, the 
physician's pledge to avoid doing harm. To do this, we'll need to 
modify federal accounting standards and budget scoring. Among other 
things, we should reinstate meaningful budget controls on both the 
spending and tax sides of the ledger. We should also reform entitlement 
programs, reexamine and reengineer the base of the federal spending, 
and review and revise existing tax policy, particularly tax 

Every federal agency and every federal program must revisit and, when 
appropriate, revise its missions and operations in light of 21st 
century changes and challenges. The problem is that 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 House. 

At the same time, government continues to expand, with new federal 
programs and initiatives added every year. Washington rarely seems to 
question the wisdom of existing federal commitments. Ronald Reagan once 
said that "the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this 
earth is a government program." 

We need to ask a series of basic questions about what government does 
and how it does business. For example, what is the proper role of the 
federal government in the 21st century? How should it be organized? 
Should contractors or federal employees or some combination of the two 
do the government's work? How much will it cost? How should it be 
financed? Who should pay for it? 

Nothing less than a top-to-bottom review of federal activities is 
needed to determine whether they are meeting their objectives and 
achieving real results. This review would also help free up resources 
for other needs. Congress and the President need to decide which 
policies and programs remain priorities, which should be overhauled, 
and which have simply outlived their usefulness. To help in this 
effort, GAO recently published an unprecedented and groundbreaking 
report that asks a series of probing, sometimes provocative, questions 
about both mandatory and discretionary spending and tax policy. This 
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 where we are; where we're headed; and, more 
importantly, how we can get back on a more prudent path. I'm also 
hopeful that GAO's work will encourage the development of a set of key 
national indicators. These are quantitative and outcome-based measures 
that policymakers can use to better assess a nation's position and 
progress over time, relative to other nations, on benchmark issues like 
public safety, health care, housing, education, and the environment. 
For years now, foreign governments and even some U.S. states and 
localities have been using indicators to successfully prioritize and 
target public resources. At the federal level, a set of outcome-based 
key national indicators would help to improve strategic planning, 
enhance performance and accountability reporting, and facilitate a much 
needed and long overdue baseline review of government. 

Transforming government isn't something that will happen overnight. 
Elected, appointed, and career officials will need to work together 
closely for a sustained period of time--perhaps a generation or longer. 
Public officials will need to reach across institutional lines and 
partner with other government agencies, businesses, professional 
organizations, and nonprofit groups. And politicians will need to focus 
more on what's right for our country rather than what's right for their 
party. It's going to take patience, persistence, perseverance, and even 
pain before we prevail in transforming government. But prevail we must. 

The New GAO: 

I'd like to talk now about my agency, GAO, and our efforts to help 
transform ourselves and show others the way forward. When I become 
Comptroller General more than seven years ago, I made GAO's own 
transformation a top priority. As Comptroller General, I serve a 15- 
year term of office, which helps to insulate GAO from day-to-day 
political pressures. This long term of office has also allowed me to 
introduce and lead a range of internal changes to enhance our 
performance, ensure our accountability, and help better position us for 
the future. In just seven years, by working together, internally and 
externally, and with our client the Congress, we have taken GAO from an 
"at-risk" agency to a "model federal agency"--one that's well equipped 
to take on Congress' toughest assignments. 

The keys to our success are straightforward: 

We seek to lead by example in all major operational areas. 

We focus on outcome-based results. 

We meet the legitimate needs of our congressional clients. 

We hire great people, empower and invest in them, and reward their 

We continually invest in new technology. 

And we partner with others, both domestically and internationally, on 
issues of mutual interest and concern. 

GAO now has a strategic plan to help guide and coordinate the agency's 
efforts. GAO's own strategic goals are ambitious but straightforward. 
We seek to produce positive and measurable outcome-based results for 
Congress and the American people. Fortunately, for various reasons, our 
outcomes have doubled in many major categories over the past six years. 
We also strive to meet the needs of our congressional clients. At the 
same time, we want to help reinvent government so that it continues to 
meet the needs of its citizens within current and expected resource 
levels. And finally, GAO aspires to become a model federal agency and a 
world-class professional services organization that just happens to be 
in the federal government. 

Focusing on results has also been a central part of GAO's 
transformation efforts. Since 2000, GAO has issued annual performance 
and accountability reports that inform Congress and the American people 
about GAO's accomplishments and its plans for the coming year. Our 
progress in meeting each strategic goal is highlighted. For example, in 
fiscal year 2005, GAO's work produced nearly $40 billion in financial 
benefits. That's an $83 return on every dollar invested in GAO. We also 
made thousands of recommendations to improve government operations. 
Importantly, about 85 percent of GAO's recommendations are eventually 
acted on by Congress or the relevant agency. Frankly, this type of 
straightforward cost/benefit reporting should be standard throughout 
government. In my view, the American people have a right to know what 
federal departments and agencies are achieving with the taxpayer 
dollars they've been given. 

Internally, GAO is now a flatter, more flexible, more results-oriented, 
more matrixed, more constructive, and more cooperative organization. If 
GAO can do it, others can too. 

Public Service: An Opportunity to Make a Difference: 

The simple but powerful truth is that effective and responsive 
government requires a quality workforce. To tackle current and emerging 
problems, government needs top talent at all levels, men and women who 
are able to think strategically and creatively. 

Being on the front lines of government operations for the long term, 
civil servants are in a strong position to help ensure that federal 
programs are getting real results. They can also help realign agencies 
to better meet their objectives, point out waste and mismanagement, and 
fine-tune federal services to ensure that the taxpayer gets the best 
possible return on investment. 

I know many of you here tonight are recent or future graduates of the 
University of Georgia's highly ranked MPA program. As you weigh your 
career options, I'll hope you'll continue to keep an open mind about 
public service as a way to make a difference--both for others and for 
yourself. As someone who has divided his career between government and 
the private sector, I can tell you that my experience at GAO and other 
federal agencies has been challenging, enlightening, and rewarding. 
It's given me a chance to help real people, people like the students on 
this campus or retirees like your grandparents, people whose lives are 
better and whose futures are brighter because of the efforts of 
dedicated public servants. 

Opting for public service is an honorable choice. It's a calling where 
individuals and organizations can work for the greater good and help 
ensure a better future for America and Americans. 

Public service attracts people who are dedicated more to the word "we" 
rather than "me," people who are more interested in increasing their 
self-worth rather than their net worth. Public service also attracts 
people who take seriously their stewardship responsibilities to others. 
If this describes you, I hope that you'll consider giving at least two 
years of your life to your county or community. If you do, I'm 
confident it'll be a decision you'll never regret and never forget. 

One person can make a difference. My favorite 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 and the Grand Canyon. As an internationalist, TR promoted the 
building of the Panama Canal and led peace talks to end the Russo- 
Japanese War. TR was a special person who won the Medal of Honor and 
the Nobel Peace Prize. We need more leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, 
leaders with courage, integrity, and creativity who can achieve 
meaningful results today and help position us for a more positive 

In closing, I think it's important to remember that this is the Getzen 
Lecture in Government Accountability. In our republic, ultimate 
accountability for government rests with each of us. It's no accident 
that our Constitution begins with the words "We the People." 

Every couple of years, we have the chance to go to the polls and 
express our approval or disapproval of how our government is being run. 
Given the challenges facing us, it's more important than ever that we 
make our views known so that our elected representatives are clear 
about what we want and expect. After all, why should any politician go 
out on a limb and tackle complex and controversial issues if no one 
seems to care? 

If the folks who live on Main Street stay silent, significant and 
sustainable change is unlikely. Our government will remain on 
autopilot, our burdens will mount, and our fiscal fuse will get 
shorter. I hope when you leave here today, you'll join with me to 
insist on the facts, speak the truth, and call for meaningful action 
and responsible leadership. It's time to recognize and fulfill our 
stewardship responsibilities to our country, our children, and our 
grandchildren. We can and we must, and if people like us join together, 
I am convinced that we will succeed. 

Thank you for your time and attention. Now, I'd be happy to answer any 
questions you might have. 

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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