21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government

This report (GAO-05-325SP) is intended to help the Congress in reviewing and reconsidering the base of federal spending and tax programs.

Absent significant changes on the spending and/or revenue sides of the federal budget, long term deficits will encumber a growing share of federal resources and test the capacity of current and future generations to afford both today's and tomorrow's commitments. Continuing on this unsustainable path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of living and ultimately our national security. Incremental approaches to budgeting will need to give way to more fundamental and periodic reexaminations of the base of government, ultimately covering discretionary and mandatory programs as well as the revenue side of the budget.

Having identified the major fiscal challenge facing the nation, and given our role in supporting the Congress, we believe that GAO also has an obligation to provide policymakers with support in identifying issues and options that could help to address these fiscal pressures. In this report, we draw on our past and pending work-about 90 percent of which is either requested by the Congress or required by law-- to provide policy makers with examples of the kinds of hard choices stemming from these challenges in the form of questions for elected officials and other policy makers to consider.