Comptroller General: Learn from the fall of Rome


Richard Moore

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Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned
By Jeremy Grant in Washington
Published: August 14 2007 00:06 | Last updated: August 14 2007 00:06

The US government is on a Œburning platform¹ of unsustainable policies and 
practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and
overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, 
the country¹s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat 
assessment of his country¹s future in a report that lays out what he called 
³chilling long-term simulations².

These include ³dramatic² tax rises, slashed government services and the 
large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were 
³striking similarities² between America¹s current situation and the factors that
brought down Rome, including ³declining moral values and political civility at 
home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal 
irresponsibility by the central government².

³Sound familiar?² Mr Walker said. ³In my view, it¹s time to learn from history 
and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of

Mr Walker¹s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of 
the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm 
of the US Congress.

While most of its studies are commissioned by legislators, about 10 per cent ­ 
such as the one containing his latest warnings ­ are initiated by the 
comptroller general himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some 
of the issues before but now wanted to ³turn up the volume². Some of them were 
too sensitive for others in government to ³have their name associated with².

³I¹m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,² he said. ³As 
comptroller general I¹ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues 
that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take

³One of the concerns is obviously we are a great country but we face major 
sustainability challenges that we are not taking seriously enough,² said Mr 
Walker, who was appointed during the Clinton administration to the post, which 
carries a 15-year term.

The fiscal imbalance meant the US was ³on a path toward an explosion of debt².

³With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, 
plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face 
unprecedented fiscal risks,² said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC 
auditing firm.

Current US policy on education, energy, the environment, immigration and Iraq 
also was on an ³unsustainable path².

³Our very prosperity is placing greater demands on our physical infrastructure. 
Billions of dollars will be needed to modernise everything from highways and 
airports to water and sewage systems. The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis 
was a sobering wake-up call.²

Mr Walker said he would offer to brief the would-be presidential candidates next

³They need to make fiscal responsibility and inter-generational equity one of 
their top priorities. If they do, I think we have a chance to turn this around 
but if they don¹t, I think the risk of a serious crisis rises considerably².

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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