Buzz of the Week: 'Unique opportunity' lures Walker from GAO

It was an offer that Comptroller General David Walker couldn’t refuse. Walker announced Feb. 15 that he’s leaving the top post at the Government Accountability Office to become president and chief executive officer of a new public-interest foundation launched by billionaire financier Peter Peterson.

“This was a unique opportunity that came up within the last month or so, and because of its unique nature, I ultimately decided that I could accomplish more” at the foundation than at GAO, he said in an interview with Federal Computer Week.

Walker said Peterson, cofounder and senior chairman of the Blackstone Group, a global asset-management company, approached him at the end of December about leading the foundation. It was a meeting of like minds. Peterson is an outspoken critic of costly federal entitlement programs and large government deficits, as is Walker, a champion of fiscal reform since becoming comptroller general in 1998.

“Pete Peterson and I think alike,” Walker said. “We even use the same words. He’s got excellent contacts in New York and on Wall Street, and I’ve got excellent contacts here in Washington. So I think one plus one equals four with the two of us.”

Walker said he believes he can make a bigger difference in sounding the alarm about spiraling budget deficits, bloated government programs, escalating health care costs and related issues at the foundation, to which Peterson has committed to contribute at least $1 billion during the next several years.

“I have mixed emotions about leaving GAO,” Walker said. “I love my job. Things are going great. But I’m very concerned about the future of the country. I think we’ve got five to 10 years to really start making some tough choices. Things need to be done that I can’t do in my current job, so I’ll have more resources and flexibility working with Peter Peterson and other members of the foundation.”

As head of GAO, Walker is heavily restricted in his role as an advocate. “In my job, I can’t advocate specific policy solutions, I can’t endorse specific pieces of legislation, and there’s a limit to how actively involved I can be in grass-roots efforts to achieve change,” he said.

News of Walker’s decision to leave GAO rippled quickly through Washington.

For some insiders, Walker’s move wasn’t a shock. “He’s been so committed [to reform] that I’m not the least surprised that [the foundation] is perhaps where he thinks he can make the most difference moving forward,” said Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. ” 

The Buzz Contenders

#2: Fiddling with FISMA
Lawmakers want to improve the act that Congress passed in 2002 to make federal computer networks more secure, but they are unsure how to amend the law. Last week, lawmakers heard from at least one official who advised them to leave the law alone.

The Federal Information Security Management Act is working fine, thank you very much, said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget’s administrator for e-government and information technology. Evans warned that adding too many provisions, such as a requirement for immediately reporting data breaches, could have unintended consequences. She didn’t say what those might be, but could one of them be embarrassment?

#3: Hire me
The federal government is hiring new employees all right, but those new hires aren’t right out of college.

The typical new federal hire is 33 years old and has previous full-time job experience, according to a new study by the Merit Systems Protection Board. That imply shows that the federal government has a bias, like most businesses, toward job candidates who have experience.

New college grads have a hard time getting noticed by anyone.

#4: Diversity shortfall
The federal government, which values diversity in hiring, still hasn’t caught up with the private sector in hiring Hispanics. Only 7.8 percent of the full-time federal workforce is Hispanic, compared with 13.3 percent in the private sector, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management. And that gap is widening, the latest hiring figures show.

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