Budget Process:

Long-term Focus Is Critical

GAO-04-585T: Published: Mar 23, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 23, 2004.

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The structure of the budget process can help ensure that budget decision makers are presented with the information and choices for timely and informed decisionmaking. GAO's long-term budget simulations show that, absent substantive entitlement reform and/or dramatic changes in tax and spending policies, we will face large, escalating, and persistent deficits. A budget process incorporating new metrics and mechanisms that better signal the long-term commitments and promises made by the government will help concentrate decision makers' efforts on long-term sustainability.

The long-term fiscal pressures created by the impending retirement of the baby boom generation sharpen the need to look at competing claims on existing federal budgetary resources and emerging new priorities. Truth and transparency in government reporting are essential if the United States is to effectively address these long-term fiscal challenges. Current metrics and mechanisms do not fully inform policy makers about the sustainability of existing federal programs or commitments they are considering making. While Social Security and health programs are the major drivers of the long-term spending outlook, they are not the only promises the federal government has made to the future. The government undertakes a wide range of responsibilities, programs, and activities that may either obligate the government to future spending or create an expectation for such spending. It is useful to think of such fiscal exposures as a spectrum extending from explicit liabilities to the implicit promises embedded in current policy and/or public expectations.

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