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Government Accountability Chief Resigns

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By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

One of government's chief internal watchdogs resigned yesterday, as Comptroller General David M. Walker, an outspoken gadfly and frequent witness on Capitol Hill, announced his plans to lead a new foundation focused on U.S. fiscal responsibility.

Walker has led the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative agency, for a decade.

Walker was an outspoken critic of the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare spending -- issues on which the Democratic-led Congress, and Republicans before it, have had trouble building consensus.

In September, the administration and the military took issue with a bleak GAO assessment of progress in Iraq; the top military command in Baghdad described the assessment as flawed and "factually incorrect." Despite last-minute changes to address the criticism, the final report cast serious doubt on U.S. efforts to build a functioning democracy in Iraq.

At the time, Walker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things . . . I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."

Most of Walker's tenure was spent with Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress, and he has frequently irritated both bodies with his dire warnings on reining in spending.

During that time, "I would give Walker high marks for trying to stand up for GAO priorities even though he had a Congress that was trying to block him and which didn't want to know what the White House was up to," said Scott Lilly, senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.

"He handled it as forcefully as he could, given that the Congress that was funding him was discouraging him."

The Walker-era GAO filed, but then declined to appeal, legal action to force Vice President Cheney to provide notes and information about meetings he held with energy companies while developing U.S. energy policy. A related suit wound up before the Supreme Court, which upheld the vice president's refusal to make the information public.

Walker's resignation takes effect March 12. He will lead the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a new think tank whose mission, according to its Web site is "to enhance public understanding of the nature and urgency of selected key sustainability challenges that threaten America's future," including "unsustainable" growth in entitlement spending, and energy consumption.

The GAO's chief operating officer, Gene Dodaro, will serve as acting comptroller general until a successor for Walker is found.

"The one thing that bothers me the most, given this president's record on nominations: It's not likely we're going to get a new comptroller before next year," Lilly said.

"That's a very sad thing, given how much institutional leadership means toward improving oversight over government."


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