Congressional watchdog Walker to resign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Comptroller General David Walker, a leading voice for U.S. fiscal responsibility, on Friday announced his resignation to become head of a new foundation that will focus on nagging problems such as skyrocketing government spending and high health care costs.

Comptroller General of the General Accounting Office David Walker testifies during a House Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 15, 2004. REUTERS/Larry Downing

As Comptroller General since 1998, Walker headed the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency.

Walker was a regular, and respected, witness on Capitol Hill, testifying on issues ranging from how to rein in the spiraling U.S. debt to the turmoil in Iraq. Last September, Walker told Congress the Iraqi government was “dysfunctional.”

Under Walker’s leadership, the GAO filed suit against Vice President Richard Cheney, seeking details on meetings he held early into the Bush administration on input from private groups on energy policy. After a federal court ruled GAO could not force Cheney to provide the information, GAO decided not to appeal the ruling, angering many Democrats.

Walker repeatedly urged Congress to waste no time in reforming massive government programs, such as health care for the elderly, which will grow significantly as the U.S. population ages.

“The picture I will lay out for you ... is not a pretty one and it’s getting worse with the passage of time,” the blunt-talking Walker told Congress more than once.

Despite those warnings, Congress and the White House have yet to begin cooperating on how to tackle the huge growth in health care and retirement benefit costs.

GAO said Walker’s resignation is effective March 12. The agency’s chief operating officer, Gene Dodaro, will serve as acting Comptroller General.

“In a town that is too often focused on short-term crises, David Walker stands out in his ability to focus on big-picture issues facing our nation and has been promoting real solutions to our country’s toughest challenges,” said Max Stier, head of the Partnership for Public Service, which tries to encourage qualified people to work in government.

Walker will head the newly established Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

“As Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO, there are real limitations on what I can do and say in connection with key public policy issues, especially issues that directly relate to GAO’s client -- the Congress,” Walker said. He added, “My new position will provide me with the ability and resources to more aggressively address a range of current and emerging challenges facing our country.”

Editing by Eric Walsh