GRI Grows to Become Leading CSR Framework

By Tyler Collins

The Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines ranks among the top corporate social responsibility (CSR) instruments among large European companies, according to recent research from the European Commission.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a non-profit organization that promotes corporate sustainability reporting. It was created in 1997 by Ceres, a national network of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations.

Thousands of organizations now use the GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Framework, the organization’s family of reporting guidelines, in order to understand and communicate their environmental, economic, and social sustainability performance.

Since releasing its first Reporting Guidelines in 2000, its global network has grown to more than 600 organizational stakeholders and over 30,000 people representing different sectors and constituencies. GRI has also developed key strategic partnerships with the United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Global Compact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Organization for Standardization.

GRI’s Deputy Chief Executive Teresa Fogelberg said, “If we are to truly achieve the transition to a sustainable global economy, there is an urgent need for all companies to embrace sustainability disclosure. The question to answer is no longer ‘Why report?’ but ‘Why are you not reporting?’”

Despite its staggering success, there is still room for improvement. While 95% of the world’s largest companies produce sustainability reports, overall less than 10% of publicly traded and trans-national companies report on their sustainability practices.

A proud supporter of the GRI, First Affirmative has been a member of the Ceres network of companies since it was first founded in 1989 with the creation of the Valdez Principles—now the Ceres Principles—in response to the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill. Only 20 years later, Ceres has a growing network of over 80 companies, 130 NGOs, and $7 trillion of investor assets.

More information about Ceres and the Ceres 20Ÿ20 vision.

Posted: April 18, 2013

Create a World Where Every Child Is Safe, Secure and Lives Without Fear

By George Gay

Each year the professionals of First Affirmative gather together for an evening of recognition, networking and fellowship.  Each year, several people are asked to present a talk that we call "Why We Do What We Do."  We have found that, without fail, each person reveals things that we did not know, and shares their path of service and values.  The evening is, every year, a high point of the gathering and inspires each of us.

Inspired by Simon Sinek’s "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action" we believe that we should share WHY First Affirmative does what it does.  We work to make life better for everyone, as defined by looking through the eyes of a child.  We help people use their money and resources to provide a better future for themselves, while building a better world for all.

Taking a page from the Hippocratic Oath, we start with the concept "First, do no harm."

Screening out investments in companies that make products or support markets that are violent, or dangerous or unhealthy seems to us to be an obvious choice.  Why would we wish to use our money to harm other people, simply to benefit ourselves?

We believe that making investments that improve the human condition around the world will create a "virtuous cycle" of inter-related benefits which will lead to investment success over time.

We search for investments that provide or support:

  • Clean and Sustainable Energy
  • Fresh and Clean Water
  • Adequate Supplies of Healthy Food
  • A Livable Climate
  • Waste Minimization
  • An End to Impoverishment
  • Justice, Fairness and Equal Opportunity
  • Peace and Security
  • Health and an Acceptable Quality of Life.

These nine areas are inextricably inter-related.  The absence of one reduces the potential for all of the rest.  The presence of all creates a peaceful, just and sustainable society.

This is Why WE Do What We Do.  We hope that you will join us.

Tax Relief for Disaster Victims

The IRS has announced that victims of Hurricane Sandy (and other disasters) in 2012 have additional time to file returns and pay estimated taxes. Details are available on the IRS website.

Who Qualifies

Only taxpayers considered to be affected taxpayers are eligible for the postponement of time to file returns, pay taxes and perform other time-sensitive acts. They include:

Any individual whose principal residence, and any business entity whose principal place of business, is located in the counties designated as disaster areas; Any individual who is a relief worker assisting in a covered disaster area, regardless of whether he is affiliated with recognized government or charitable organizations; Any individual whose principal residence, and any business entity whose principal place of business, is not located in a covered disaster area, but whose records necessary to meet a filing or payment deadline are maintained in a covered disaster area; Any estate or trust that has tax records necessary to meet a filing or payment deadline in a covered disaster area; and Any spouse of an affected taxpayer, solely with regard to a joint return of the husband and wife.

Relief Available

Affected taxpayers are given extended due dates for filing many tax returns (including individual, estate, trust, partnership, C corporation, and S corporation tax returns and others) or to make related estimated tax payments that have original or extended due dates falling on or after the onset date of the disaster but on or before the extended due date. Disaster onset dates are specified by state and county. See a partial list below.

Connecticut

Federally-declared disaster areas from Hurricane Sandy are: Fairfield, Middlesex, New haven, New London counties, and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations). For these places, the onset date was October 27, 2012 and the extended date is February 1, 2013 (mostly affecting 4th quarter estimated tax payments otherwise due on January 15, 2013).

New Jersey

Federally-declared disaster areas from Hurricane Sandy are: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties. For these places, the onset date was October 26, 2012 and the extended date is February 1, 2013 (mostly affecting 4th quarter estimated tax payments otherwise due on January 15, 2013).

New York

Federally-declared disaster areas from Hurricane Sandy are: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties. For these places, the onset date was October 27, 2012 and the extended date is February 1, 2013 (mostly affecting 4th quarter estimated tax payments otherwise due on January 15, 2013).

SRI survey reveals desire for investments with greater impact...

SRI SURVEY: 2013 TO BE YEAR OF "IMPACT INVESTING," WIDER INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR ACCEPTANCE OF ESG APPROACH

Released One Month Ahead of Major Industry Event, The 2012 SRI Conference Survey Finds Impact Investing Likely to Fuel SRI Growth Over Next 12 Months; More Institutions Seen Warming to SRI/ESG Focus with Impact Investing in Forefront.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – September 5, 2012 – If you think that SRI is only about investing in socially screened mutual funds, you haven't been paying enough attention.  The rapid rise of "impact investing" is going to have a big impact on the world of sustainable, responsible, impact (SRI) investing in the coming year, according to The 2012 SRI Conference Survey of more than 200 SRI professionals.

The first annual survey conducted by First Affirmative Financial Network is being released today, one month ahead of The 2012 SRI Conference (formerly known as SRI in the Rockies), the largest annual gathering of responsible investors and investment professionals in North America.  Set for October 2-4, 2012 in Connecticut, the 23rd annual SRI Conference is on the East Coast for the first time, in close proximity to New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C.  For registration and other information, go to http://www.SRIconference.com.  

The term "impact investing" encompasses a range of approaches—including microfinance and private equity in developing markets—that allow institutions and individual investors to get involved in solving specific social and environmental problems while also generating a return.  In some cases, impact investing is designed to achieve market returns; in other cases, a portion of the returns is devoted to achieving a greater social impact.  

The August 2012 online survey of 218 SRI/ESG professionals includes the following key findings:  

  • The #1 growth area for SRI in the next 12 months identified by the largest number of respondents is "impact investing" (35 percent), while another 29 percent see the biggest growth taking place in "screened investing/ESG integration."
  • More than three out of five respondents (62 percent) expect "institutional investor acceptance ofSRI/ESG to improve in the next 12 months."
  • What will it take to get wider institutional acceptance of SRI?  The top three responses are: "increased emphasis on impact investing for institutions that have 'making a difference' as part of their mission" (47 percent); improved performance (43 percent); and "increased emphasis on community investing" (35 percent).
  • More than three out of four respondents (78 percent) say "SRI is growing and will continue to do so."  Only 8 percent say SRI is "headed for a leveling off or a slowdown."

First Affirmative President, Steve Schueth, producer of The SRI Conference, said:  "After the recent financial crisis, more and more investors have hungered for a way to have a more direct connection between their money and the impact it is having in the world.  This survey shows that the sustainable, responsible, impact investment industry is innovative and vibrant—as vital for institutions and individual investors today as it was decades ago during the fight against Apartheid. Impact investing is the latest way that investment professionals who work with socially conscious investors are helping to deliver positive returns as well as positive change—for the common good."   

Other key 2012 SRI Conference Survey findings include the following:   

  • SRI investment performance is expected to "do about as well as the overall market" (46 percent) and nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) expect it will do "slightly better than the overall market."  
  • What are the three biggest roadblocks to wider individual acceptance of SRI?  The top three responses are:  "perceptions about performance" (74 percent); "investor confusion over the growing number of terms used to describe SRI (e.g. 'impact investing,' 'sustainable investing,' 'socially conscious investing,' 'green investing') (39 percent); and "the slow economy" (34 percent).
  • The most prevalent areas of SRI career focus are: screened investing/ESG integration (69 percent); shareowner advocacy (36 percent); community investing (44 percent); and impact investing (26 percent).
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents have been in the SRI/ESG field for a decade or longer, with 36 percent logging 10-25 years of service, and another 10 percent active more than 25 years. Another 31 percent have been in the field for three-10 years.  Nearly three-quarters of those responding (71 percent) would "advise a new financial professional to enter the (SRI) field," and almost exactly the same portion of respondents would "make the same career decision if they could do it all over again."  

About the SRI Conference The SRI Conference (http://www.SRIconference.com) is the leading forum for the sustainable, responsible, impact (SRI) investment industry in North America.  For more information about the agenda, speaking, or sponsorship, please contact Krystala Kalil, at 888-774-2663 or [email protected].  Register at http://www.sriconference.com/register.jsp.

The Politics of SRI

It is surely, unmistakably, an election year. Wherever you are, politics will find you this year. If you are a federal employee hoping for an SRI option in your retirement plan, politics has found you, too. See below....

US SIF LETTER TO THE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

August 2, 2012

"Unsustainable investments: Democrats look to divert more money to liberal causes," (July 31) includes unfounded, inaccurate claims both about sustainable and responsible investing (SRI) and the recent GAO report on including an SRI Option in the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

Over $3 trillion, or one in eight dollars, under professional management in the U.S. followed sustainable investing strategies at the beginning of 2010, growing more than ten times the rate of the broader universe of professionally managed assets over the previous five years.  An increasing number of investment managers, mutual funds, financial planners and advisors, pension funds, foundations and other asset owners engage in SRI.  Many corporations already offer SRI options to their employees.  More than half of all states and many cities offer SRI options in defined-contribution retirement or public educational savings plans.  The GAO report states that SRI demand is "…a global phenomenon and is growing in popularity in the US."

  Additionally, the information in the GAO report, while including some challenges common to adding any new fund to a plan, notes that many institutions with an SRI option find that the cost, performance and administrative aspects of adding an SRI fund are in line with conventional funds.  Specifically, the GAO noted that in 2010, "the costs of SRI institutional grade mutual funds were similar to their non-SRI counterparts." The GAO's regression estimates showed that SRI stock mutual funds performed better than their non-SRI stock counterparts in the 5- and 15-year timeframes.   

Providing an SRI option for federal employees allows them to have access to the same kind of investment options offered to millions of other public sector and private sector employees.

  Lisa Woll
CEO
US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment
Washington, DC  

THE WASHINGTON TIMES EDITORIAL

Unsustainable investments - Democrats look to divert more money to liberal causes By THE WASHINGTON TIMES Tuesday, July 31, 2012

            Spending other people's money is what the left does best, so it's no surprise congressional Democrats would come up with a scheme to bankroll pet causes with cash from retirees. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed a law encouraging the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to come up with new investment options. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, wanted to know whether greenbacks could be steered toward "socially responsible" firms.

That would be a bad idea, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a report released Thursday. About 4.5 million federal employees have $308 billion in the government's 401(k)-style retirement program, which allows employees to put their assets into several index funds that vary in potential risk and return.

One fund invests in Treasury securities, offering the least risk. Another invests in bonds and other asset-backed securities. The most popular option tracks the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, investing not in any one particular firm but in the broader market.

"Socially-responsible" patronage directs dollars toward firms that meet criteria laid out in the United Nations document, "Principles for Responsible Investment." These values are kept vague for obvious reasons, but in practice the idea is to set up a system to reward corporations for such things as speaking out against the evils of global warming, promoting alternate lifestyles and "contributing to their community" with donations to liberal causes. There's no room for anyone involved in, say, nuclear power or national defense.

The Thrift Savings Plan surveyed its members and found there was no demand for a socially responsible fund. In other private-sector retirement programs that did offer a save-the-polar-bears option, as few as 0.5 percent of members chose it. When people are in control of their own money, they're not looking to hug a tree — they're looking to get the best bang for their buck.

That's not what they get from purportedly environmentally conscious, fair-trade firms that insist on only using recycled paper. GAO tested its current portfolio against the best-performing, socially responsible index fund and found the liberal stocks would have resulted in "lower returns and higher volatility" compared to the broader market. Over 10 years, the lefty stocks averaged a 12 percent return compared to 33 percent for common stock.

It'd be a much smarter move to create a fund from politically incorrect companies like the two publicly traded U.S. firearms manufacturers. Smith and Wesson stock grew from $2.35 in January 2009 to $10.10 per share today. Sturm, Ruger and Co. jumped from $6.27 to $49.43 over the same period, not counting $1.93 in dividends.

This politicized investment idea, however, was never about sensible investing or returns. It was always about encouraging companies to toe the liberal line using the savings of retirees as an incentive.

The Washington Times

First Affirmative Recognized as a Best for the World Company

Today B Lab released the first 'Best for the World' lists recognizing companies creating the most positive overall social and environmental impact. The ‘Best for the World’ companies score 50% higher than nearly 2,000 other sustainable businesses, and in the top 10% among more than 500 Certified B Corporations, in a comprehensive independent assessment of overall corporate impact.

In the B Corporation Annual Report, B Lab has recognized First Affirmative Financial Network as:

  • Among the 15 top U.S. corporations in terms of positive worker impact.
  • One of three U.S. financial services companies to rank the highest on positive worker impact.
  • One of only three Colorado corporations to rank in the top of positive worker impact.

"B Corporations are leading a global movement to redefine success in business,” said Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, the nonprofit organization that certifies B Corporations and governs the independent third party standard used to generate the comparable assessment of corporate impact. “These companies are the best in the world at being the best for the world," Coen Gilbert added.

Unlike traditional corporations, B Corps consider the full impact of all internal decisions on their employees, suppliers, community, consumers, and the environment—and are legally allowed to do so. This is the way First Affirmative has conducted business every single day over the past 24 years.

The recognition that First Affirmative is receiving today is a confirmation of the value of operating in a more responsible manner, and it reflects an important characteristic of the companies we look to own in client portfolios.

B Lab is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Lab certifies B Corporations which must: 1) meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance; 2) legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests; and 3) build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corp brand.

The B Impact Assessment is the most rigorous, comprehensive, and comparable independent assessment of overall corporate impact. The assessment shows the relative value businesses create for society by comparing nearly 200 individual metrics on corporate impact on workers, consumers, suppliers, community, and the environment.

Article By Steve Schueth

Enjoying the Calm, Mild Winter

Most of us have been enjoying the calm, mild winter weather (unless you are an avid snow lover), but I’m also referring to the markets. On that front, it’s been one of the best winters in years.In recent days, the Dow Industrials Index topped 13,000 for the first time since before the 2008 crash, and the NASDAQ topped 3,000 - the first time that’s happened since 2000. Overall, the markets have had their best yearly start since 1998.*

There is decent news on the U.S. economic front as well. The labor markets are improving and employment is slowly making headway in the right direction. Even real estate is showing tentative signs of improvement, as existing homes are beginning to change hands more frequently.

And let’s not forget the anecdotal portents. This is a Leap Year, and also a Presidential election year, and that bodes well for the markets. There have only been three down Leap years for the S&P 500 since 1928. Not only that, a National Football Conference team won the Super Bowl (go Giants!). The markets almost always go up then - no kidding.

The more you know me, the more you know I have little faith that any of these tidbits, by themselves or together, spell anything definitive for the markets in 2012. The bottom line remains we can’t predict the future at all, really. Yet perhaps the most comforting characteristic of recent markets for me is their relative calm. Recent trading has been measured, with limited anxiety and almost no panic evident. Volatility, for a change, has been muted. That is good news for investors, for nothing spooks the markets like being spooked.

Things could reverse themselves, of course. Part of the reason market trading has been muted is that traders are not all that confident about where the markets are headed from here, and although there is cautious optimism in the air traders are holding pat for now. And one of the few Leap Year exceptions was 2008, and we remember all too well how that turned out.

There will be continued focus on the financial mess in Europe, and rightfully so. In my view the crisis with our financial system is not simply a European event. It is a global fact, and one of the most crucial issues we must face, for the sake of prosperity, sustainability, and justice (and I know we agree these are integrally intertwined in our ever smaller, globalized world). The world is awash in too much debt, and that is because our money system is bound to this debt in destructive ways. Simply put, any time we create new money in our global financial system, we create an equal amount of new debt, and the interest accruing on all of that debt (for which new money is not created) is slowly choking our economies and the planet. (For those who want to read more about this, check out the American Monetary Institute http://www.monetary.org/).

But for now, I am enjoying the calm, and as spring approaches I am hopeful that calm will continue on into the summer and for the rest of 2012. Let’s stay the course with our investment strategies and relax. Enjoy the nice weather!

*Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Keeping Market Volatility in Perspective

[one_third_last]

When markets are volatile, sticking to a long-term investing strategy can be a challenge. To keep the ups and downs in perspective, it might help to look at past market cycles to see how recent market action compares.

Bears versus bulls

Corrections of 10% or more and bear markets of at least 20% are a regular occurrence. Since 1929, there have been 18 previous 20%-plus bear markets (not including 2011 market action). Losses on the S&P 500 in those markets ranged from almost 21% in 1948-1949 to 83% during 1930-1932; the average loss for all 18 bears was 37%.*

However, since 1929, the average bull market has tended to last almost twice as long as the average bear, and has produced average gains of about 79%.* Individual bull market gains have ranged from 21.4% at the end of 2001 to the nearly 302% increase registered during the 1990s.* The worst annual loss--47%--occurred in 1931, but the all-time best annual return--a capital appreciation gain of just under 47%--happened just two years later in 1933.**

Points of reference

This year has seen extreme volatility, with weeks and even days when swings of several hundred points in both directions on the Dow seemed to become commonplace. In the first week of August alone, 2 of the Dow's 11 best days in history alternated with 2 of its 11 worst daily point losses ever.***

While by no means normal, the highs and lows are hardly unprecedented. Even though the 634-point drop on August 8 felt historic, it didn't begin to match the real record-holders. The single biggest daily decline occurred in September 2008, when the Dow fell 778 points. The biggest percentage drop was October 1987's "Black Monday," when the Dow fell almost 23%; that makes the Dow's 5.5% loss on August 8 of this year seem relatively tame by comparison. And August 8 was followed by the Dow's 10th best day ever, with a gain of 430 points. While that upward movement may seem exceptional, the Dow's best day ever came during the dark days of October 2008, when a 936-point move up on October 13 represented a gain of more than 11% in a single day.***

Stocks versus bonds

The last decade has been a challenging one for stocks. Between 2001 and 2010, the S&P 500 had an average annual total return of just 1.4%, while the equivalent figure for Treasury bonds was 6.6%.**** For much of that time, interest rates were falling, helping bonds to outperform stocks. However, interest rates are now at record lows, and rising rates could change the relative performance of stocks and bonds.

Many experts predict that the global economic recovery will continue to create an uncertain investing environment in coming years, with both strong rallies and strong downdrafts. While there may be ongoing volatility in the markets that needs to be monitored, it's important to keep things in perspective; your ability to meet your long-term goals could be affected if you change your overall game plan with every new headline.

Article by: Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. • 33 Boston Post Road W • Marlborough, MA 01752

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Market indices listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment. All investing involves risk, including the risk of loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The Standard & Poor's 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy.
DATA SOURCES: *Bull and bear market time frames, gains/losses: all calculations based on data from the Stock Trader's Almanac 2011 for the Standard & Poor's 500. **1931 and 1933 annual stock returns: based on Ibbotson SBBI data for capital appreciation of S&P 500. ***Based on data from the Stock Trader's Almanac 2011 . **** 10-year rolling stock returns: based on Ibbotson SBBI data for annual total returns between 2001 and 2010 of S&P 500 and an index of U.S. Treasury bonds with an approximate 20-year maturity.

The U.S. Debt Limit: Questions and Answers

As August 2 approaches, you'll likely hear increasingly urgent debate over the nation's debt ceiling. That's the approximate date by which the Treasury estimates it will no longer be able to borrow under the current $14.3 trillion limit. Treasury officials have warned that if the Treasury can no longer borrow money, the U.S. might default on its existing obligations--in other words, be unable to make payments it already owes, whether those be for Treasury securities or government programs.

President Obama, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have warned that not raising the debt limit would have severe consequences. Leaders of both parties have said that the issue must be addressed, and have put forward proposals for tying any increase to tackling the country's budget deficit. However, they differ on how to begin to reduce that deficit.

While the debate is taking place right now, here are some answers to frequently asked questions that might help you understand the issues involved.

What is the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling represents a limit on the amount the U.S. Treasury is allowed to borrow to manage the national debt (the total amount currently owed by the U.S. government). Before World War I, Congress often approved the terms of individual debt instruments issued by the Treasury to pay for spending authorized by Congress, including maturities, interest rates, and the types of financial instruments used. Eventually, members decided in 1939 to set an overall limit on the total amount the Treasury could borrow to pay the nation's bills without congressional authorization.

An increase in the debt limit does not authorize additional governmental spending; only Congress can approve future spending. However, Treasury officials have said that if the limit is not raised, the government would not be able to pay bills that have already been incurred. According to the Congressional Research Service (an arm of Congress), the debt ceiling has been increased 78 times since 1960 (10 times just since 2001), under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The national debt has two aspects. Debt held by the public occurs when investors buy debt instruments sold by the Treasury to finance budget deficits and pay bills; it represents almost two-thirds of the current debt. Debt held by government accounts is created when the Treasury borrows from government accounts such as the Social Security, Medicare, and Transportation trust funds.

What would happen if the debt ceiling isn't raised?

There's no way to know the precise or full impact, since a default on the country's obligations is unprecedented in U.S. history. However, the Treasury is responsible for payment of a broad range of obligations that include not only Treasury bonds, notes, and bills, but also Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the current national debt, and tax refunds, to name only a few.

Technically, the $14.3 trillion ceiling was exceeded in May. However, the Treasury has been able to use certain accounting measures to temporarily extend the nation's ability to borrow.

Bond rating agencies have already warned that an interruption in or curtailing of payments owed by the U.S. government would harm the nation's credit rating, which is currently among the highest in the world. If that happened, or if the country actually had to default or restructure payment schedules, greater uncertainty about the United States' ability to pay its bills would mean that both domestic and foreign investors would likely demand higher interest rates for buying Treasury securities.

Those higher interest rates would increase the country's borrowing costs, making the national debt problem even worse in the long term. They might also result in higher interest rates for other, nongovernmental loans such as mortgages, which some observers worry could hamper economic recovery. And even if there were technically no default, the mere absence of an agreement that addresses the issue before August 2 would likely raise the global anxiety level substantially.

Haven't we survived government shortfalls in the past?

Governmental funding gaps have occurred more than a dozen times in the last three decades, according to the Congressional Research Service. The most recent was in 1995-1996, when the failure of the Clinton administration and the Republican-led Congress to reach agreement on a spending bill led to a temporary government-wide shutdown. However, never in the country's history has it failed to pay its legal obligations--one reason why Treasury securities have historically been considered one of the safest investments in the world.