[e-gov] GovInfo/E-Gov News 9-20-2006

  • From: "Patrice McDermott" <pmcdermott@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "govinfo@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <govinfo@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "e-gov@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <e-gov@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "FOI-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx" <FOI-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006 11:16:48 -0400

- Bush administration keeps two sets of books but shows Congress only one of 

- Information Quality Act - Expanded Oversight and Clearer Guidance by the 
Office of Management and Budget Could Improve Agenciesâ Implementation of the 

Patrice McDermott, Director
202-332-OPEN (6736)

http://www.rollcall.com/issues/52_28/guest/14998-1.html [subscription req'd]

By Rep. Jim Cooper
Special to Roll Call

September 19, 2006

Budget debates on Capitol Hill will never be the same, now that we have proof 
that presidential budgets have failed us, not because of their spending 
priorities but because of bad accounting. The Bush administration keeps two 
sets of books but shows Congress only one of them.

Donât take my word for it. Read âThe Financial Report of the United 
States,â issued by the U.S. Treasury every year but suppressed by the White 
House. Never heard of it? You are in good company. David Broder of The 
Washington Post called it one of the most secretive documents in Washington, 
D.C. It is issued just before Christmas without a press release, and with a 
print run of 2,100 copies. Thatâs why I persuaded a publisher to release the 
âFinancial Reportâ in every bookstore in America, just in time for the fall 

If you use proper accounting, federal budget deficits are at least two, and 
probably 10, times larger than President Bush will admit. Remember President 
Bushâs press conference last month claiming that his deficits are smaller 
than expected? He simply wasnât counting veteransâ benefits, civil service 
retirement, Social Security or Medicare. We canât pretend that we care about 
those benefits if we donât count them.

How large is the deficit? Was the 2005 deficit $318 billion as the president 
admits, or $760 billion, or even $3.3 trillion? Is it 2.6 percent of gross 
domestic product, 6.2 percent or 26 percent? History will not be kind to 
governments that cannot put the decimal point in the right place.

Congress is clueless on this issue. More Members were briefed on the 
ultra-secret National Security Agency wiretapping than on this report. The 
Budget committees ignore it. Most Members have no idea that Congress and the 
White House have been using old, outmoded bookkeeping while the White House 
keeps the real numbers hidden.

The president himself is in the dark. I recently asked the new director of the 
Office of Management and Budget, Rob Portman, to tell the president about the 
report. I told him that he couldnât be fired for delivering bad news on his 
first day on the job. But Director Portman apparently chickened out. The 
president has given no indication that he is aware of the Treasury Department 
numbers. As the first MBA president in history, Mr. Bush has a particular 
obligation to use modern accounting.

Congress also has ignored one of the most important news events of the summer. 
For the first time in history, the White House may be forced to tell the truth 
about Social Security and Medicare. The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory 
Board voted 6-4 to include Social Security and Medicare obligations as 
liabilities on our national balance sheet. Incredibly, we elected officials 
have been promising the benefits without bothering to budget for them. The 
FASAB vote will change that.

Fiscal problems such as these are literally destroying Americaâs credit. 
Standard & Poorâs, the nationâs leading credit analyst, is projecting that 
the United States will lose its AAA bond rating by 2012 and fall to junk bond 
status by 2025. S&P obviously sees larger deficits than President Bush does.

Do you trust Standard & Poorâs, or Bush and Cheney, on this issue?

How could Washington be so confused? Just the word âaccountingâ can make 
peopleâs eyes glaze over, but, as they say in business, âIf you canât 
measure it, you canât manage it.â Today Congress cannot accurately measure 
its debts or manage its deficits. We cannot even monitor the use of the 
national credit card because our accounting methods are so primitive. No large 
business in America or nonprofit is allowed to rely on our method of 
accounting. Weâve literally made it illegal for everyone else.

The first plank of the Republican âContract with Americaâ demanded that 
Congress live by the laws it passed for the rest of the nation. Surprise! 
Weâve been exempting ourselves from the most important one of all: telling 
the truth about our own budget problems.

Meanwhile, the coming debt crisis is best described by Peter Fisher, a former 
Bush Treasury official: âThink of the federal government as a giant insurance 
company (with a sideline business in defense and homeland security) which only 
does its accounting on a cash basis. ... An insurance company with cash 
accounting is not an insurance company. It is an accident waiting to happen.â

An accident waiting to happen! America deserves better than that.

An August 2006 Government Accountability Office report 
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06765.pdf  shows that corporations and industry 
trade groups filed more than half the Data Quality Act challenges in 2003-04. 
Nearly half resulted in groups appealing agency decisions, and some complaints 
took up to two years to resolve . . . The Consumer Federation of America's 
annual National Food Policy Conference held in Washington last week included 
several Center for Science in the Public Interest staffers and top government 
officials as unpaid speakers. The conference's costs were partially 
underwritten by major food corporations and trade groups such as Food Products 
Association, Mars, Inc., the National Yogurt Association, and Safeway.  

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