Internal Gadfly Tries Other Side

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

David M. Walker was not known as a wallflower during the decade he spent as head of the Government Accountability Office.

Walker was outspoken in his criticism of the management of the Iraq war, repeatedly warned that the government's fiscal policies were courting disaster, and filed suit in an unsuccessful attempt to force Vice President Dick Cheney to disclose information about meetings he held with energy companies Yet he left his job as GAO comptroller general last year so he could speak more freely.

"I was not a shy, retiring guy as GAO comptroller general," Walker said. "But there's a line you can't cross, and I made a conscious decision I had to do some things on the other side of the line."

The other side of the line these days includes advocating solutions to the nation's financial crisis. "The country has a window of opportunity to get its act together, and that window will be closing," said Walker, now president and chief executive of the nonprofit Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

The foundation began running its first national television ads this week with a public education campaign warning that the country is facing $56 trillion in unfunded retirement and health-care obligations. The ads call for the creation of a bipartisan commission with statutory authority to make a series of budget, entitlement and tax recommendations that would be subject to votes in Congress.

Walker is also advocating the creation of an independent board that would serve as a "gatekeeper" to ensure that economic stimulus spending meets clearly defined objectives, that it includes appropriate ways to measure whether it is working, and that it is allocated on the basis of merit and not political consideration. Such is not the case with the money spent so far under the Troubled Assets Relief Program, according to Walker. "We spent $350 billion, and we don't know what we got," he said.

Walker rejects the suggestion that such a board might gum up the stimulus spending spigot. "There's no reason this has to slow things down unduly," he said. "The bigger issue is, you can throw a lot of money out the door, but you might not have much to show for it."

Walker has maintained a relatively high profile since leaving the government. He was prominently featured in the 2008 documentary "I.O.U.S.A.," which warns of the dangers of runaway deficits.

The movie, financed by the Peterson Foundation, has been described as the "Inconvenient Truth" of the debt crisis. The film follows Walker as he crisscrosses the country warning that U.S. fiscal policies are unsustainable.

Walker attended yesterday's "fiscal responsibility summit" with President Obama.

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