Highlights of a GAO Forum:
The Long-Term Fiscal Challenge
GAO-05-282SP: Published: Feb 1, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 2005.
Research on public opinion shows that while the public is aware of the Federal Government's long-term fiscal challenge, it does not have a good handle on the size and implications of this challenge. In addition, the public consistently ranks our long-term fiscal challenge as low priority relative to other issues, such as the current state of the economy. This gap in public understanding of the nature and magnitude of the long-term fiscal challenge--and how to bridge it--was the subject of GAO's December 2, 2004, forum on the long-term fiscal challenge. The forum sought to move beyond "the usual suspects" to expand the circle of concern. The forum sought to create a space within which a rich and meaningful dialogue could take place on how to better communicate the long-term fiscal challenge to the public. To achieve this kind of dialogue, participants were a select group of individuals drawn not only from budget and policy experts but also from other key groups both in Washington and from "beyond the Beltway." These included opinion leaders from a variety of sectors. All brought a commitment to thinking ahead and an eagerness to move beyond defining and measuring "the problem" to discussing how to broaden understanding and dialogue so that action will be both more immediate and more informed. In particular, the forum sought to identify some possible approaches and strategies that could help elevate the public's understanding of the long-term fiscal challenge. Forum discussions focused in particular on the roles that media, educators, and leaders elsewhere in society will need to play. In so doing, participants expressed their views on the possible causes of current gaps in public understanding of the long-term fiscal challenge. Participants also made numerous suggestions for what types of approaches and actions might be effective in bridging the gaps. This report summarizes the ideas and themes surfaced at the forum and the collective discussion of the forum participants as well as subsequent comments received from participants based on a draft of this report. Convening this forum is but one small step toward elevating public understanding of the challenge and acceptance of the need for change. Ultimately it will take the combined efforts of many individuals and groups over an extended period of time to successfully address the issues. The forum provided a venue for people concerned with the long-term fiscal challenge to talk with each other about their common interest in public dialogue on the issue. One immediate result of the forum has been that groups of participants have gotten together. These collaborations have the potential to leverage the efforts of its individual members in order to increase the likelihood of action on this important issue.