Sometimes, I feel bad for Comptroller General David Walker and his staff at the Government Accountability Office.I imagine it’s the same sort of sadness most people feel for the geeky guys in high school comedies. You know, the good guys who never get the girl, but are there throughout the course of the plotline, providing some sort of insight into the inner workings of the social machination that exists all around them.
He’s the Duckie of federal accounting in some ways. Listened to by many, but at the same time, dismissed out of hand when it comes time to romantic considerations. Well, in this strained analogy, maybe when it comes time for legislative action.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Walker speak on more than one occasion -- usually in front of an accounting audience, and usually extolling them to become more vocal in helping their clients and their Congressmen seriously consider making inroads to solving the country’s long-term fiscal imbalance. I get concerned even typing that phrase -- "long-term fiscal imbalance” -- for fear that people’s eyes might glaze over. But really, his stump speech to CPAs is great, essentially a call to arms for a group of professionals that, unless they work within the walls of public accounting and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, are perhaps unlikely to be called so passionately to serve any numbers-related cause.
So I’m always happy to keep an eye out for any communication issued by Walker. What troubles me, is that so much of his agency’s work often seems to get lost in the shuffle. As a nonpartisan, federal watchdog, the GAO issues dozens of reports and decisions weekly. The problem is that so much of that work seems to be deadened by the meticulous numbers outlined within those pages and the formulaic nature of the executive summaries and dutiful one-page highlights.
Reading those reports, when it comes time for the paragraph where the GAO summarizes whether the examined government agency has accepted its recommendations, I sometimes feel like I can literally read between the lines to just how grudgingly the examined agency has agreed to make change in its operations.
Searching for the terms “walker” and the phrase “fiscal imbalance” on the GAO Web site, it appears that the beginnings of the comptroller general banging the alarm was in February of 2001, and that he’s been tirelessly working ever since to beat that phrase into the minds of Congress. While he might have accomplished that goal to a certain degree, he appears to have been less successful getting meaningful changes aimed at addressing those big-picture concerns into actual legislation.
While the problem of enacting such change is undoubtedly systemic -- much larger than just one man, or one agency, or one political party -- I was happy to see Walker take a slightly different tact early this month, sending a letter directly to the 110th Congress laying out a long, long laundry list of the country’s most pressing concerns and the contacts a Congressional member would need to get started tackling a particular issues. It was the first time Walker has every sent a letter directly to Congress (though the GAO has, of course, compiled a multitude of reports and untold hours of testimony to the body). I hope his agency sees a few of its wishes come true in the New Year, even if it’s only say, items Nos. 24 or 33 on that 36-item list.
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