DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Alumna seeks truth through numbers

Sheila Weinberg

Alumna Sheila Weinberg started the Institute for Truth in Accounting, which serves as a watchdog for the federal debt.

Visit the Institute For Truth In Accounting’s website and the first noticeable feature is a kinetic meter showing the escalating national debt.

Most people may have seen such a meter elsewhere. However, the website adds a further twist to the concept: Below the “official” debt — roughly $13 trillion — is “the truth,” which is more like $74.8 trillion.

The woefully disparate numbers are the calling card for the nonprofit, which was started by alumna Sheila Weinberg (BSBA accounting ’79).

The site also is adorned with rotating quotes from sources ranging from the Founding Fathers to Mark Twain to Weinberg herself. It’s one particular quote by Thomas Jefferson, though, that encapsulates Weinberg’s motivation for starting the site: “An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a Democracy.”

“You cannot be an active, knowledgeable participant in your government if you don’t have truthful information,” Weinberg says. “I believe the public is being misinformed about its finances. Right now, we’re making huge decisions based on faulty information.”

Weinberg started the institute shortly after the 2000 presidential election. She noticed how candidate Al Gore was talking about putting the surplus in a lockbox, and Bush was talking about giving it back to the people.

“I nearly shook my TV every night,” she says. “I was confused as to how the government was running surpluses at the same time the debt was going up.”

Drawing on a background in accounting plus new research, Weinberg discovered that the federal government uses shady accounting to downplay the national debt. For example, the government ignores Medicare and Social Security benefits in its projections, which would dramatically increase the amount of actual debt.

Weinberg’s work has garnered attention throughout the past decade. Apart from media coverage and speaking engagements, the organization has been behind three bills in Congress — all of which died in committee — that would have rendered the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board more independent. Weinberg claims the board is part of the reason the federal government does not have to follow the same accounting practices it mandates for corporations, and why it can utilize “accounting gimmicks.”

Sheila Weinberg met her husband, Jack, when the two took accounting classes at DU. Jack is chairman of the Gottlieb Memorial Foundation and recently was awarded the president’s medal for distinguished service from Loyola University.

In the spirit of the institute’s 501c3 status, Weinberg refuses to make her mission too partisan. She blames both parties, she says.

“It’s whatever party’s in power that gives us the most resistance,” Weinberg says. “Republicans don’t want to hear it because they won’t get their tax cuts. Democrats don’t want to hear it because they would have to cut spending.”

Although for several years Weinberg would occasionally be disappointed by apathy toward the issue, she says that recently a promising level of interest has materialized.

“For years, we’ve been beating the drum, but no one cared about it. Now I guess the numbers are too big to ignore,” she says. “The elected officials and the bureaucrats, they know this issue exists, but they don’t want to tell the truth. We can’t let them win. We have to keep on fighting.”

Visit the Institute for Truth in Accounting website at www.truthinaccounting.org.

One Comment

  1. Nancy Mathieson says:

    I wish more Americans had the integrity of Sheila Weinberg to challange the government’s numbers. There isn’t even a current federal budget in place right now.

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