- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The head of Congress’ investigative arm, in a highly unusual move, will issue a stern warning to the American public that the U.S. economy is facing “a large and growing structural deficit” that requires dramatic action and tough choices to curb.

“My son … was a Marine Corps company commander in Iraq, and I actually have less concern about him being in Iraq in that capacity than I do about what the future may hold for him and his new daughter because of this fiscal imbalance, because at least in Iraq he had some control over his own destiny,” General Accounting Office head David M. Walker told United Press International.

Speaking at a luncheon Monday with UPI reporters and editors, Mr. Walker discussed his views on the federal deficit, GAO cooperation with the September 11 commission and its role in investigating Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in U.S. energy policy.

White House budget estimates released earlier this month project a $455 billion deficit for 2003, to grow to $475 billion for 2004. Mr. Walker is expected to release his fiscal warning before Congress in September.

Mr. Walker, appointed comptroller general of GAO by President Clinton in 1998, said the deficit is the result of “not one thing; it’s a combination of factors that have gotten us to that situation,” including the economic downturn, the global war on terror, President Bush’s recent tax cut and government spending.

Mr. Bush, speaking last week in Dearborn, Mich., said he believed that “with hard work and determination, this economy is going to be strong,” But Mr. Walker said, “Tough choices are going to be required.”

Economic growth can help ease the deficit, Mr. Walker said, “but we’re not going to grow our way out of this problem.”

Mr. Walker told UPI he was trying hard to avoid partisan charges and instead to “make the talk about facts.”

Discussing the GAO’s role in working with other congressional committees, Mr. Walker said his organization was cooperating with the national commission examining the attacks of September 11, providing them information it gathered both before and after the attacks.

Regarding the GAO’s investigation into Mr. Cheney’s role as head of the National Energy Policy Development Group, Mr. Walker said that, despite abandoning its attempt to get more information about private-sector participants through the courts, the GAO will still publish a report on the information it had been able to gather.

Opponents have said Mr. Cheney stacked the policy group with energy-industry insiders.

According to Mr. Walker, the GAO “tried very hard to reach a reasonable accommodation with the vice president’s office on this, and they were not interested,” forcing the GAO to bring a suit in federal court. A judge dismissed the case without ruling.

Mr. Walker decided not to appeal in part, he said, because the investigation was broadly perceived as partisan.

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