17:42 - August 15, 2007
News ID: 1572215
David Walker, director of the US Congress's investigative arm, sees "striking similarities" between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down the Roman Empire.
"As comptroller general I’ve 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 on," the director of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told The Financial Times in an interview on Tuesday, August 14.

"I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call."

Walker warned that unless action is taken mighty America could face the same fate of the Roman Empire, the superpower of its age.

"The Roman Republic fell for many reasons, but three reasons are worth remembering," he concluded in a recent study, citing declining moral values and political civility at home, an overconfident and overextended military in foreign lands, and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.

"Sound familiar?" asked Walker, who was appointed to the post during the Bill Clinton administration and is serving a 15-year tenure.

He warned that if the US stayed the course, it will arrive at the end of its imperial journey much sooner than the Roman Empire which lasted 1,000 years.

"In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time."

GAO is a non-partisan audit, evaluation and accountability watchdog, commonly called the investigative arm of Congress.

According to its mission statement, the influential body exists to support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.


Walker, whose views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure, said America faces a serious sustainability test.

"One of the concerns is obviously we are a great country but we face major sustainability challenges that we are not taking seriously enough," he said.

"Simply stated, America is on a path toward an explosion of debt," the senior official concluded in his research.

"We also face a range of serious challenges when it comes to health care, education, energy, the environment, foreign policy, immigration, infrastructure, Iraq, and other issues," added Walker.

"With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiraling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks."

Walker maintained that current US policy on education, energy, the environment, immigration and Iraq also was on an "unsustainable path".

He underlined the need to invest billions of dollars to modernize the infrastructure, including from highways and airports to water and sewage systems.

"The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a sobering wake-up call."

US journalists and transportation experts have agreed that the recent collapse of an eight-lane interstate bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis should the impact of massive appropriations for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at the expense of a dilapidated infrastructure.

A 2005 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers said that more than a quarter of the country's roughly 600,000 bridges were "structurally deficient" or "fundamentally obsolete".

None of these bridges have been maintained in the past three years due to the high costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

In 2005, the Bush administration came under scathing criticism for its awkward and overdue relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one the costliest and deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

"Much of the federal government remains overly bureaucratic, myopic, narrowly focused, and based on the past," contended Walker.

Although US presidents serve only two consecutive terms in office, experts believe that Bush looks set to become an exception with a legacy of crisis that will dominate his successor's tenure.

Asserting that tough choices must be made, Walker offered to brief would-be presidential candidates next spring.

"They 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 don’t, I think the risk of a serious crisis rises considerably."
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