Former Comptroller General David Walker on GAO’s 100th Anniversary

In 2021, the Government Accountability Office is marking its 100th anniversary serving as Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog. Former Comptroller General David Walker led GAO from 1998 to 2008–initiating a series of lasting reforms to strengthen GAO’s value and return-on-investment for Congress and American taxpayers. 

In a recent interview, I asked former Comptroller General Walker about his tenure leading GAO and his recommendations for GAO’s next century. Mr. Walker was the 7th Comptroller General of the United States–nominated by President Clinton and confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate. He led the nonpartisan watchdog agency from 1998 to 2008.

We discussed lasting reforms that he initiated, including issuing annual reports describing GAO’s return-on-investment and updating the office’s name to reflect its current mission. We also explored how GAO’s new Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics team can address longstanding gaps in Congressional S&T capacity. 

Former Comptroller General Walker urged Congress and the GAO to aggressively challenge the nation’s growing fiscal challenges. He also recommended that Congress maintain and increase funding for the GAO, including to grow its Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team. Walker argued that the federal government needs a strategic plan, which it currently does not have. “China has one,” Walker reasoned, “and they are executing on it and it’s a tremendous strategic advantage for them.”  Walker also argued that the nation must address its growing fiscal challenges. “We need to recognize that we’re not exempt from the laws of prudent finance. We’ve got to be able to put our finances in order. We’ve got to be able to deal with our structural imbalance sooner rather than later.”

Looking forward to GAO’s next 100 years, Mr. Walker was confident that Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog will play a meaningful role in helping the nation address its challenges. “GAO is a great agency. It’s a world class organization that leads by example and practices what it preaches. We’ve made great and lasting changes at GAO and the accountability profession in the US and internationally that’s focused both on performance and accountability….  Oversight, insight, and foresight which is critically important, because we don’t do enough foresight work in the political arena if you will. I am looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary. I congratulate Gene Dodaro, my successor who was my number two, for continuing the reforms that we made together and focusing on continuous improvement.” 

Mr. Walker concluded by urging the nation’s leaders to proactively address the our growing challenges. “We are a great country. We’ve got some serious challenges. We have increasing security threats. Increasing gaps in America. And a number of sustainability challenges. But the good news is that we can solve them if we get serious and we act sooner rather than later,” Mr. Walker argued.

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