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Monday, July 23, 2007

Better Financial Reporting Is Her Bottom Line

In recent years, Nov. 15 has been a big day for Linda M. Combs, the controller at the Office of Management and Budget. She and her deputy, Danny Werfel, have waited late into the night, sometimes to midnight, for agencies to file their annual performance and accountability reports and financial statements.

The reports summarize program, management and financial performance information, and basically show taxpayers what they are getting for their bucks. The Nov. 15 deadline is 45 days after the close of the fiscal year.

But those annual sessions are coming to an end for Combs, one of the key players in the government's efforts to improve its financial management and help federal agencies obtain clean audit opinions. She is retiring Aug. 10 and returning to her home state, North Carolina.

Combs has served in three Republican administrations (Reagan and both Bushes) and held five Senate-confirmed appointments, stringing together a career in federal management that has spanned more than 25 years.

Since 2001, she has worked in the current administration as chief financial officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, chief financial officer at the Transportation Department and controller at the OMB, in charge of government-wide financial management policies.

On her watch as controller, Combs has worked with agencies to reduce improper payments by more than $8 billion, produced the first complete government-wide real property inventory in modern times, and issued new financial-control guidelines so that federal agencies can meet the equivalent of the Sarbanes-Oxley rules for the private sector.

At the OMB, Combs cut the time for agencies to submit their annual audit reports from five months to 45 days. She also has seen the number of federal agencies receiving clean audit opinions increase from six in 1996 to 19 in 2006.

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