Despite growing consensus on the dire nature of the nation's finances, straight talk about what we want government to do and how we plan to pay for government services is a rare commodity. Facing Up to the Nation's Finances and Students Face Up to the Nation's Finances are nonpartisan initiatives that enable more Americans to confront and work through realistic choices for addressing the nation's long-term fiscal challenges.

"Facing Up" is a nationwide project developed in partnership with leaders from The Brookings Institution, The Concord Coalition, the Heritage Foundation, Public Agenda and Viewpoint Learning. The project has received support from the Ford Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Public Agenda's own Wadsworth Program Development Fund. Students Face Up to the Nation's Finances is a college-based, nationwide project supported by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, involving a wide range of partners.

Young People Taking on Federal Finances

Young people have been important voices in addressing the challenges faving our nation's fiscal future. In the fall of 2008, Public Agenda launched a new effort to engage college students through its Students Face Up to the Nation's Finances initiative, funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

This past fall, Public Agenda launched a pilot “Campus Conversation” at American University to gauge students’ views and ideas on the nation’s fiscal future. In this pilot, students took part in carefully constructed, moderated, problem-solving dialogues about critical issues related to the nation’s debt and finances, prefaced by a basic presentation on federal finances. More

"Facing Up to the Nation's Finances" will not make recommendations on how public monies should be allocated or how the long-term deficit should be reduced. Rather it aims to organize a non-partisan movement of citizens and leaders in honest public dialogue to call for meaningful action in confronting the various challenges to long-term fiscal stability. Among those challenges are the impending retirements of baby boomers, the growth in health care costs, a broken tax system, and a lack of sufficient government accountability. It involves new forms of opinion research, public engagement and intensive engagement of leadership.


Prior to launching Students Face Up to the Nation's Finances in 2008, our "Facing Up to the Nation's Finances" initiative in 2006 and 2007 engaged the public, elected and civic leaders, and local media in a serious consideration of our nation's finances in targeted regions around the country. The action unfolded in four steps:

  • ChoiceDialogues, innovative, invitation-only research sessions, provideed deeper insight into the views and values of the unorganized public in that region;
  • a visit to the region by The Concord Coalition's "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour";
  • a Stakeholder Dialogue in which citizens who participated in the ChoiceDialogues worked with representatives from the Wake-Up Tour and other leaders to find common ground and identify steps that would move their shared vision forward; and
  • aggressive citizen movement building to give the public in the region the tools they need to move their vision forward, including online engagement activities, networking, and communications outreach.

Learn more about the regions we're working in and what we've done so far.


Project News Coverage

Facing Up to the Nation's Finances Reports


Recent related reports from partners in the initiative:

For a full listing of reports, transcripts and statements on this issue from our partners, visit The Brookings Institution, The Concord Coalition and The Heritage Foundation.

The Resources section of pulls together the best information on the federal budget and related issues from both our partners and from non-partner organizations.


 The Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution is a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions. Celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2006, Brookings analyzes current and emerging issues and produces new ideas that matter -- for the nation and the world.

The Concord Coalition

The Concord Coalition is a nationwide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to sound, sustainable and generally responsible fiscal policy. The Concord Coalition was founded in 1992 by the late former Senator Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson. Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) was named a co-chair of the Concord Coalition in January 2002.

The Heritage Foundation

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute -- a think tank -- whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.

Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public opinion research and civic engagement organization. Founded in 1975 by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, Public Agenda is well respected for its influential public opinion polls, balanced citizen education materials and ground-breaking community-based engagement initiatives. Its mission is to close the gaps between leaders and the public.

Viewpoint Learning

Viewpoint Learning, a research and consulting organization also cofounded by Daniel Yankelovich, conducts specialized dialogues that enable leaders to understand different perspectives in depth, increase options, anticipate obstacles and broaden support for difficult decisions.

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