Former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker kicked off the Arthur W. Page Society’s annual Spring Seminar with a strong warning about the U.S. government’s fiscal condition, likening it to the U.S. mortgage industry prior to the current financial crisis. With a negative net worth of $11 trillion, another $45 trillion of off-balance-sheet unfunded obligations, and trillions more of debt on the way, the government’s debt over the long term creates a risk of a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to service its debt, a flight from the dollar, high interest rates and dire economic consequences.

Two key points in Walker’s thesis struck me as being relevant to The Authentic Enterprise and the role of corporate communications:

  • The way the U.S. political system makes budget and other strategic decisions has strayed from the fundamental values on which our country was founded, including the proper role of government, reliance on thrift and savings and a focus on building for the future.
  • The government’s response to large challenges represents laggardship, not leadership. He defines laggardship as avoiding planning, failing to identify and respond to risks, failing to build a platform for future success and waiting until there’s a crisis in order to act.

The Authentic Enterprise, by contrast, stresses the role of values in corporate success. In order to be truly trusted, any large enterprise must adopt a set of principles that are acceptable to key stakeholders and which are adhered to consistently up and down the organization.

It also calls for chief communications officers to assert leadership within their organizations to help them achieve authenticity through values, stakeholder relationships, effective use of new media and by building trust.

Walker, who now serves as president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, is engaged on behalf of his cause in the same approaches we try to follow as corporate communicators, reaching out to disparate stakeholders to build relationships that change the way we think and act. For his part, he hopes for support for sound strategic planning and budgeting by the federal government. I wish him much success.