Comptroller general to leave GAO for foundation

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Man on a Mission

Comptroller General David Walker will leave the Government Accountability Office next month to become president of a new foundation, he announced today.

Walker, an indefatigable advocate of government reform, said he felt he could make a "a real and lasting difference" at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, where he will become president and chief executive officer.

"As comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, there are real limitations on what I can do and say in connection with key public policy issues, especially issues that relate to GAO's client — the Congress," Walker said in a statement.

"My new position will provide me with the ability and resources to more aggressively address a range of current and emerging challenges facing our country, including advocating specific policy solutions and course of action," he said. "This move will enable me to sharpen my messages."

Walker was named comptroller general in November 1998. Gene Dodaro, GAO's chief operating officer, will be acting comptroller general after Walker departs March 12.

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, Walker said Peterson, the billionaire co-founder of the Blackstone Group, approached him at the end of December 2007 about heading the foundation.

"This was a very unique opportunity that came up within the last month or so and because of its unique nature, I ultimately decided that I could do accomplish more there than” at GAO, Walker said.

Walker said he and Peterson, an outspoken critic of costly entitlement programs and large government deficits, see eye to eye on key issues.

"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 had mixed emotions about leaving GAO. "I love my job here," he said. "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 was restricted in his role as an advocate, he said. "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 grassroots efforts to achieve change," he said.

News of Walker's decision to leave GAO rippled through Washington today.

"He's been so committed [on fiscal issues] 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. "It's a marvelous opportunity."      

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, said: “In a town that is too often focused on short-term crises, David Walker stands out in his ability to focus on big-picture issues facing our nation, and has been promoting real solutions to our country’s toughest challenges...I have no doubt he will continue doing great things for the American people at the Peterson Foundation.”


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