Public Service:

The Chance to Remake Our World

GAO-12-787CG: Published: May 20, 2012. Publicly Released: May 23, 2012.

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This speech was given by the Comptroller General before the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia May 20, 2012. GAO’s strategic plan for serving the Congress and the country highlights key trends affecting the United States and its place in the world. These include:

  • evolving security threats;

  • urgent fiscal sustainability and debt challenges;

  • economic recovery and restored job growth;

  • changing dynamics of global interdependence and shifts in power;

  • advances in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics;

  • increasing impacts of networks and virtualization;

  • shifting roles in government and governance; and

  • demographic and societal changes confronting the young and old.

More than ever, a broad strategic approach is essential to governing well. But even with a strategic vision, there are in my view five factors to turn any vision into reality. Those factors are perspective, persistence, preparation, people, and participation. Economics, trade, politics, information flows, public health, and many other human activities are now linked as never before. The recent financial crisis vividly illustrated the extent to which economics, trade, and information flows have become inextricably linked.

Additionally, given the global interconnectivities of financial markets and institutions, national reforms and international cooperation are both pivotal to addressing the underlying issues that contributed to the recent turmoil. Major reforms are underway in the United States, and GAO has a major role to play in evaluating their progress.

Another factor that’s essential to achieving a strategic vision is persistence, or sustained long-term effort. My experience has been that progress in government often needs to be attained through incremental change. With some persistence and a willingness to work with others, a series of small steps can lead to real and lasting change and pay off in a big way.

GAO’s high-risk list is a case in point. With the start of each new Congress, GAO issues a report on federal areas vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or needing broad-based transformation. Our latest list presents 30 areas ripe for reform – from the Interior Department’s management of oil and gas leases to the Pentagon’s acquisition of weapon systems.

Since we started the high-risk list 20 years ago, more than a third of the cited areas have improved enough to be dropped from the list. Vital to such progress is sustained congressional attention, priority by the Office of Management and Budget on behalf of the President, and effective leadership by the federal entities involved. The recent financial crisis also brought home the need for people to prepare for the future —whether it’s saving for college or planning for retirement. We at GAO have initiated a multi-pronged strategy to address financial literacy issues. Under this effort, we will continue to evaluate federal efforts that directly promote financial literacy. GAO will also encourage research into various financial literacy initiatives to evaluate their relative effectiveness. In addition, we will look for opportunities to enhance financial literacy as an integral component of regular federal interactions with the public. Finally, GAO has recently instituted a program to empower its own employees, which includes an internal website with information on personal financial matters and links to important information.

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