“Absent policy changes, the federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path,” America’s top auditor warns. But is anyone listening?
Eric Boehm | 2.28.2020
The federal government’s books are in such bad shape that auditors can’t even do their jobs, and the national debt is growing at an “unsustainable” rate, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in its annual comprehensive review of the government’s financial statements.
The GAO singled out the Pentagon—as it has every year since 1990, when federal auditors first started trying to peer into the black hole of military spending—for “serious financial management problems.” That includes more than 1,300 new issues raised during this year’s incomplete audit of the Defense Department. Despite those persistent financial problems, the Pentagon has seen a huge boost in spending under the Trump administration.
Of the 24 federal departments and agencies subject to annual audits under a 1990 law, only the Pentagon and the Department of Housing and Urban Development failed to get a clean review this year. Note that a clean review does not mean there was no wasteful spending—merely that auditors at least were able to see where the spending was going.
“Resolving the problems outlined in our audit report is of utmost importance given the federal government’s reported fiscal path,” wrote Gene L. Dodaro, U.S. comptroller general and the head of the GAO, in a letter to Congress and President Donald Trump. “Absent policy changes, the federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path.”
Measured as a share of the entire U.S. economy, the national debt has doubled in just 12 years and is on pace to grow to historical highs within the next decade. The federal government’s budget deficit—the gap between how much revenue it raises and how much money it spends—is expected to exceed $1 trillion this year.