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Friday, November 17, 2006

Most agencies get clean audits, but big problems persist

Eighteen agencies received clean audit opinions for fiscal 2006, and for the second year in a row all 24 major agencies met a deadline to close their books within 45 days of the end of the fiscal year, the Office of Management and Budget announced Thursday.

The 24 agencies named in the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act had a Nov. 15 deadline to submit the results of their annual financial audits along with annual Performance and Accountability reports. Eighteen of those received unqualified opinions, indicting that auditors were satisfied that the agencies' financial statements were reliable.

Auditors returned disclaimers of opinion, reflecting such major problems in an agency's accounting that its financial statement could not be evaluated, to the Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and State departments, and NASA.

The Transportation Department earned a qualified opinion, meaning auditors identified a particular problem, but were otherwise satisfied with the accounting.

Even among agencies judged well, auditors identified problems to be addressed. Some were in the area of internal controls, the processes that guard against fraud and error, which agencies for the first time were required to test and report on. The requirement is in OMB's Circular A-123.

Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., who has pressed agencies to address their financial management problems from his seat as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Management, Finance and Accountability, lauded agencies for meeting the demanding 45-day reporting deadline.

"With this focus on internal controls ... I expect to see some of the longstanding financial management issues resolved over time," Platts said. The subcommittee has worked closely with DHS, in particular, over the past year to make progress on recurring financial management problems.

The audit results announced this week are likely to change for some agencies, as chief financial officers work with their auditors to resolve questions in the fiscal 2006 books and arrive at a final result. An October Government Accountability Office report found that 11 agencies restated the results of their fiscal 2003 audits; nine of those agencies initially received unqualified opinions.

In the study, GAO concluded that agencies and OMB were not fully transparent in how they restated financial results. They didn't always indicate which results had changed or the causes or results of those adjustments. It was not immediately clear how many agencies took the 2006 audit as an opportunity to restate past results, because of delays in agencies' release of their reports.

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