Forces That Will Shape America's Future:

Themes from GAO's Strategic Plan, 2007-2012

GAO-07-467SP: Published: Mar 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2007.

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This document describes the forces that are likely to shape our nation's future, its place in the world, and the changing role of the federal government. This document is an integral part of GAO's strategic plan for serving the Congress for fiscal years 2007 through 2012. Our plan describes our proposed goals and strategies for supporting the Congress and the nation in facing the challenges of a rapidly changing world. In keeping with our commitment to update the plan every 3 years, we have identified seven key themes that provide the context for our plan. These themes are ensuring the nation's readiness to face changing security threats; addressing a range of sustainability challenges from fiscal challenges to environmental challenges; maintaining economic growth and competitiveness; recognizing global interdependencies related to people, information, goods, and capital; adapting to societal changes resulting from demographic and other shifts; maintaining U.S. citizens' quality of life; and managing advancements in science and technology.

If our nation is to be prepared for the challenges and changes that are coming, government transformation is essential. Nothing less than a top-to-bottom review of federal programs and policies is needed to determine if they are meeting their objectives. As a nation, we need to ask, "What is the proper role of the federal government in the 21st century, and how should it be organized and managed?" Since at least the 1960s, the number of federal employees has dropped even as federal outlays have risen, partly because of technology and the fact that the dollars that fund federal programs are increasingly flowing to nonfederal entities. We need to better assess how well these entities are performing and whether they are achieving the desired results. The policy process needs redesign so that it can better support policymakers in reexamining the base of federal programs (e.g., federal entitlements, policies, and programs), updating budgetary priorities, and reviewing commitments as well as revenue approaches. In doing so, the policy process must have the capacity to provide policymakers not only with information to analyze the performance and results achieved by specific agencies and programs, but that of broad portfolios of programs and tools contributing to specific policy goals. Developing key outcome-based national indicators focused on the broadest levels of policy aspirations--for example, improving national health outcomes, reducing crime, or improving national educational progress--is essential to identifying and addressing broad national needs within current and expected resource levels. Such a transformation requires leadership by elected and public officials that is dedicated, courageous, creative, committed, constructive, cooperative, and stewardship oriented. The Congress and the President need to decide which policies and programs remain priorities, which should be overhauled, and which have simply outlived their usefulness. Appointed and career officials at every federal agency and program need to give careful thought to their missions and operations in light of current trends and future realities. To assist policymakers and managers, the following pages contain more detailed descriptions of these key themes and issues along with some of the implications for governance. While many issues are related to multiple themes, we discuss each issue under the theme that it most influences, and we list related issues under each theme.

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