David Walker's Last Objective
Player, Steve, Business Finance
AFTER SERVING NEARLY TEN YEARS as our nation's chief auditor, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker recently resigned to meet an objective the public sector had long denied him.
STEVE PLAYER INTERVIEWS DAVID M. WALKER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE PETER G. PETERSON FOUNDATION.*
Steve Player: The position of Comptroller General has a 15-year term, but you stepped down to take on this new role outside of government. What was it about this new role that you found attractive?
David Walker: The primary reason I changed was that I had accomplished all of my objectives but one at GAO and that one was how to get the Congress to make a down payment on our large and growing fiscal imbalance and start dealing with some of the key sustainability challenges facing our nation. I came to the realization that I think I actually have a better chance at being successful at this as President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation than if I'd stayed on as Comptroller General.
You might ask why. Because (a) now I can advocate specific solutions - I couldn't do that before; (b) I've got the ability to build strong coalitions very overtly that I couldn't build before; and (c) I have the ability to engage in grassroots efforts to bring pressure on Washington to act sooner rather than later, which I really couldn't do before.
For those three reasons, I made the change. Of course, there was one more big reason, and this was the opportunity to work with Pete Peterson, who's a great American and who's putting his money where his mouth is.
SP: It certainly sounds like a great foundation, and I particularly like the advocacy of getting the debate going, regardless of the solution. We don't always seem to be having the conversations that we should be having ?
Walker: You can't solve a problem until the majority of the people recognize that we have a problem that needs to be solved and that we should do it sooner rather than later. So the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour and other efforts that the foundation is supporting are designed to try to help wake up the American people to the fact that we have a serious problem, and that it's growing with the passage of time.
However, we can't stop there. We need to help design solutions, build broad-based coalitions to support those solutions, and then stimulate grassroots efforts to make those solutions become a reality, because ultimately elected officials are going to have to vote. And they're going to have to be pushed. They're not going to do it by themselves.
SP: That's the tough thing about the voting, because many of the issues you talk about - particularly Social Security, for instance - these are hard nuts to crack. They are very difficult issues, and oftentimes they're issues that politicians are afraid of. How's the reaction from the political front been on your message and getting to actually step up and have that kind of conversation?
Walker: A lot of people thought that I was probably taking heat as Comptroller General in being able to talk about these issues, but actually I wasn't because I stated the facts, I spoke the truth, I never blamed any particular person or any particular political party. Frankly, while working with others, I was trying to till the ground, to prepare the way, so that they could make tough choices without losing their jobs. Actually, I got a lot of compliments but no criticisms.
We need to make sure that the next President will make fiscal responsibility and intergenerational equity a top priority. If he or she does, we can turn this thing around. If not, it's probably only a matter of time before we have a real crisis.
SP: Does the party make any difference - whichever party wins - or is it independent of that?
Walker: We're nonpartisan, nonideological, and staunchly so. I want it to stay that way. Personally, I'm an independent, and proud of it. In fact, there are more independents in America than Democrats or Republicans. …