A few minutes with ... David Walker

Official David Walker biography

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David Walker, comptroller general of the United States, said the federal government rests on an unsustainable structure of rising deficits and superseded processes. He projects that by 2040, government spending may consume 30 percent to 45 percent of the gross domestic product. In February, Walker called for a complete re-examination of how the government operates and what it should continue to do in the 21st century. His main message is that some tough decisions must be tackled now to save the country from a not-so-distant crisis.

Bush administration efforts to reform government have gathered steam with new pay-for-performance personnel rules taking effect in the Defense and Homeland Security departments and elsewhere. Can they succeed in their goal of achieving a results-oriented government without a larger transformation?

Walker: Human capital reform is an essential element in order to transform government. Basically, you need to link institutional unit and individual performance measurement and reward systems together in order to effectively achieve transformation. ... But it is not the only element necessary to achieve needed transformation.

Congressionally granted presidential reorganization authority is one way the government has changed itself significantly. The administration has proposed two commissions that would allow the president to restructure programs. Are the commissions a reorganization authority by another name?

Walker: The problem is [the Bush administration] hasn't introduced specific legislation that has enough details to be able to effectively evaluate the merits of what they want to do. ... Congress is not going to act on these types of proposals, which potentially could end up reducing some of its authority under the Constitution and some of its historic influence, without understanding the details.

Without a larger transformation, will individual civil servants be able to achieve desired results under a pay-for-performance system?

Walker: They can achieve much better results. They will not achieve optimal results. ... Although it's essential to modernize our human capital policies and practices, we're going to have to end up undertaking a number of other initiatives as well, because our fiscal gap is much too great to grow our way out of it.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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