Buzz of the Week: An inconvenient fiscal truth

The trailer for a new film looks like an action-packed thriller. But when the smoke clears, the audience learns that the movie — an independent film called “I.O.U.S.A.” — is actually a documentary about U.S. deficits.

“This film addresses four key deficits facing America,” said David Walker, the mild-mannered former comptroller general in a June 26 appearance before a  subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Those four deficits, he said, are: budget, savings, trade and leadership.

It also highlights the Fiscal Wake-Up tour that Walker — now president and chief executive officer of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation — has been taking part in, along with members of other Washington think tanks. The Concord Coalition launched the tour in 2005.

The movie, despite its potentially dry subject matter, is like a fiscal version of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” without the hurricanes.

Although the movie won’t be the feel-good hit of the summer, moviegoers in some cities will be able to see it beginning next month. Meanwhile, Walker and others are hosting an invitation-only screening for members of Congress and other invitees July 9 at the Library of Congress. A press screening will be held July 14.

“It is ‘we the people’ who are responsible for what does or does not happen in capitals around the country,” Walker said. “At the same time, the people cannot be expected to act if they don’t have all the facts, haven’t been told the truth or don’t understand the consequences of failing to act.”

#1: Magic quadrant loses its charm
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is widely considered a standard for separating industry leaders from lesser contenders, but that doesn’t mean agencies should make it an official arbiter.

The Veterans Affairs Department did that in a 2007 blanket purchase agreement awarded to Dell for PCs, and the department’s inspector general has determined that VA unnecessarily limited the number of competitors to the three manufacturers that Gartner put in the “leaders” quadrant, or to resellers who could provide hardware from those makers.

The Magic Quadrant is a square bisected by vertical and horizontal lines representing “completeness of vision” and “ability to execute.” According to the IG, VA would probably not get leader-caliber scores on either.

#2: Obama, McCain, in some ways the same
The government’s on hold while it waits to see who wins the White House in November, but according to research firm Input, some priorities for the new administration don’t depend on whose administration it is.

The war is going to dominate the federal information technology budget regardless of who becomes the next president, and the presumptive nominees of both major parties consider health care, the environment and homeland security to be priorities, even though they differ on the specifics they would pursue. Still, agencies and their contractors can look for initiatives around those topics.

Of course, if Ralph Nader wins or Bob Barr pulls off an upset, all bets are off.

#3: Transparency you can see through
Another priority the candidates share is a zeal for transparency. On June 26, Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and six co-sponsors introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act, a House version of a bill Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — the presumptive Democratic nominee — and Arizona Sen. John McCain — the Republicans’ presumptive nominee — co-sponsored. The Senate bill was introduced June 3.

The bills would make it easier for Internet users to see cop es of federal contracts, information about competitive bidding, government lease agreements, spending earmarks, federal audit disputes, work quality, federal tax compliance, violations or criminal activities, and government reports.

However, neither of them would allow us to see who will win in November beforehand.

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