Watchdog laments lack of accurate spending, performance data

The federal government has dug itself into a deep financial hole that it will not climb out of until its changes how it tracks spending and performance, according to Comptroller General David Walker.

Walker, the head of the General Accounting Office and a fiery advocate for government accountability, tried to thrust the country's staggering $7 trillion national debt and financial management practices into the spotlight with a speech at the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday.

"The bottom line is that, in my view, the federal government's current financial statements and annual reports do not give policy makers and the American people an adequate picture of our government's overall performance and true financial condition," he said.

Part of the problem, Walker said, is that the government does not count some of its largest entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits, as liabilities on its annual financial statements.

Walker outlined several steps that should be taken to remedy the problem:

  • The long-term costs of major spending and tax proposals should be fully considered before they become law.
  • Social Security and Medicare programs should not just be studied for current solvency today, but also for long-term sustainability.
  • The federal government should have a governmentwide strategic plan and annual performance goals.
  • The government's organizational structure should be streamlined and simplified to improve efficiency.

Walker said there are signs of hope for the government's financial health, including: more detailed annual agency financial reports submitted with the president's budget; the ongoing implementation of the President's Management Agenda, which focuses on improving agency performance; and increased interest from Congress in studying waste, fraud and abuse in federal agencies.

"These are positive steps in the right direction; however much more needs to be done given the magnitude of our financial situation," Walker said.

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