April 14, 2010

Oversight of Federal Financial Management

Testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement
Key materials

America’s financial situation is unsustainable. In 2009 the federal government spent $3.5 trillion but collected only $2.1 trillion in revenue. The result was a $1.4 trillion deficit, up from $458 billion in 2008. That’s 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), a level unseen since World War II. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that we will be running large deficits for the foreseeable future. According to its data, the annual deficits could average $1 trillion during the next 10 years.

While these figures are dramatic, they pale in comparison to what the federal government owes to foreign and domestic investors. According to the CBO, in 2009 America’s debt held by the public reached $7.5 trillion, or 53 percent of GDP, the highest it has been in 50 years. In 2010 the debt will cross the 60 percent threshold, a level at which many economists believe a country is putting itself in financial peril.

Maybe more importantly, the financial accounting of our financial troubles can lead us to underestimate the gravity of the situation. For instance, while the Department of Treasury’s Financial Statement of the United States depicts the financial situation of the country much more accurately than the Office of Management and Budget’s Budget of the United States, it leaves out some important elements that could hinder lawmakers’ realization of the urgency to address our financial situation. For instance, it accounts accurately for the IOUs in the Social Security Trust Fund, however, fails to account for how the federal government will pay its debt to social security and what it means for our debt levels.