Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Lonely Voice for Fiscal Sanity

I was startled yesterday to hear the Comptroller General of the U.S., David Walker, on NPR, talking frankly about the enormous debt burden we face. We've all heard too many statistics, which can become numbing, but he got my attention with one figure: the total U.S. debt and unfunded obligation amounts to $400,000 per American household. And the recent Medicare prescription plan has added more. A quick check of the website for the GAO (the Government Accountability Office, which he heads), however, showed that he's apparently
been talking about this issue for some time.

Like the post-Watergate Inspectors General, who keep independent watch over each federal agency, the GAO is supposed to be insulated from political pressure at it goes about rooting out waste, fraud, abuse and even deeper financial villainy. It answers to Congress rather than the executive branch, but of course Congress has mostly operated as a wimpy rubber stamp to the tough guys in the White House for several years.

Walker no doubt catches some occasional hell from his overseers for this kind of boldly independent criticism. But then, a check of his bio suggests that he's perhaps learned the hard way that speaking up for sanity by pointing out inconvenient facts is the best long-term option. Before joining the GAO, after all, he worked for the now-defunct accounting firm of Arthur Andersen.


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