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Friday, September 28, 2007

Today's GAO Publication

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following report:

U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission: Actions Needed to Improve Controls over Key Management Functions.
GAO-07-1128, September 28.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071128high.pdf

FCC Releases Financial System Modernization RFQ

Request for Quotation (RFQ) Number RFQ07000021 for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Core Financial System Replacement (CFSR)

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Federal Communications Commission are overseeing the acquisition phase of the Core Financial System Replacement (CFSR) project. FCC’s current financial systems environment is primarily comprised of a suite of CGI Federal solutions hosted by the Department of the Interior’s National Business Center (DOI-NBC), including the mainframe Federal Financial System (FFS) for core financials and the client-server Momentum Financials product for cost accounting (Budget Execution and Management System (BEAMS)). The FCC also operates the Revenue & Accounting Management Information System (RAMIS), based on Digital Systems Group’s (DSG’s) commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) financial system, for receivable, billing and collection activities.

This initiative will be conducted in compliance with all applicable financial systems regulations and guidance. Of particular applicability is the OMB’s Competition Framework for Financial Management Line of Business (FMLoB) Migrations (May 22, 2006) and the Financial Systems Integration Office (FSIO) migration planning guidance.

Please email the Contracting Officer (CO) at Anthony.Wimbush@fcc.gov with any questions regarding this RFQ by 5:00pm Eastern Time on October 9, 2007.

Proposals are due no later than 5:00pm Eastern Time on November 9, 2007.

Get the RFP Here

Thursday, September 27, 2007

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - Mark Carney (CFTC)

Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)

Mark Carney - Chief Financial Officer

The commodities futures market impacts what you pay for a loaf of bread, how much you pay at the pump and even the interest on your kid's college loan. And the number of contracts traded on the market has essentially tripled since 1976. Only, the CFTC's budget allows for fewer full-time employees now than it did then. As a result, Carney says his office has been taking a close look at where the agency's money is spent and whether the results justify the expenditures. The CFTC has also moved to a new financial management system, part of a process that helped it become one of eleven agencies to win the 2007 Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting (CEAR) from the Association of Government Accountants.

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OMB SES Position Posted

ISSUE DATE: September 25, 2007
CLOSING DATE: October 9, 2007


Title, Series & Grade:
($111,676 - $168,000)

Vacancy Location:
Office of Management and Budget
Management/Performance and Personnel Policy
Washington, DC 20503

Completed form(s) must faxed to:
Executive Office of the President
Office of Administration
Human Resources Management Division
(202) 395-1194/1262

Applications will also be accepted electronically. Please submit your application to eopjobs@oa.eop.gov.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Financial chiefs make progress on audits, improper payments

In 1991, a year after Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act requiring agencies to exercise better financial controls and provide accurate and timely financial data that could be reviewed by independent auditors, only one of the 24 agencies covered by the law was able to receive a clean bill of financial health -- the General Services Administration. Now, 19 departments and independent agencies have received clean audits for the past two years.

To Linda Combs, that's incredible progress. She should know. Combs served in numerous financial management positions across the federal government, beginning with the Reagan administration and ending last month, when she retired after two years as comptroller at the Office of Management and Budget.

Today, 12 agencies have achieved that standard, according to OMB. "CFOs have taken a lot of responsibility for helping their business units to use financial data in better ways. What I like to say about the CFO Act is that it took CFOs from the backroom to the boardroom. I think [Comptroller General] David Walker first said that, but I've adopted that quote because it's so descriptive of what happened," Combs says.

Progress hasn't come easily. Only in the last two years have most agencies been able to meet the 45-day reporting requirement for providing financial statements at the close of the fiscal year -- and many of those reports were filed only after Herculean manual efforts by employees working overtime to meet the deadline.

Progress has been labor intensive, but it's also been measurable. In an area of particular importance to taxpayers, OMB estimates that improper payments declined to $36.3 billion for programs that reported $45.1 billion in 2004. While that's still a lot of money paid out incorrectly, it's an improvement, relatively speaking.

Timothy Hill, director of the Office of Financial Management and chief financial officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the House Budget Committee in July that CMS executes four parallel strategies to reduce error rates: prevention of improper payments, early detection of errors, coordination with outside entities to identify fraud, and enforcement.

This year, CMS estimates that Medicare contractors will process well over 1 billion claims from providers, physicians and suppliers for items and services covered by the program. Last year, Medicare outlays were nearly $382 billion.

Another area of notable progress across federal agencies has been real property management. Two years ago, the government had no centralized inventory of its real property -- no reliable data reflecting the operation and maintenance costs of federal facilities, where facilities were located, what condition they were in, whether they were critical to agencies' missions. In 2005, OMB launched an effort to create such an inventory. In the process, it disposed of $4.5 billion in excess property.

Chief financial officers at every agency share a common purpose. They all are responsible for ensuring that agencies comply with accounting and reporting laws, and they play key roles in strategic planning. But their function can vary significantly from agency to agency. When William M. McCabe was acting chief financial officer at the Education Department, his attention was on the business of making loans and issuing grants.

"The primary focus was an outflow of cash," he says. Now he is chief financial officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an agency that bills for a lot of the services it performs for its mission of ensuring safety and security at civilian nuclear power plants. "The focus has a more commercial bent -- billing for services, recovering that money," he says.

For many CFOs, including McCabe, improving finance and accounting systems has required greater cooperation with other chief executives, especially chief information officers. "I work very closely with our new CIO, Darren Ash," says McCabe. "We're working on many fronts together, looking at investments as a portfolio other than a single stovepipe, system by system. We want to make sure we're spending money wisely and not redundantly."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission formed a capital planning and investment control process, chaired by the CIO, to make sure investments in technology are tied to the budget and planning process. "It becomes more and more critical the larger we get. It comes down to managing this growth," McCabe says.

It was a similar level of cooperation between CIO and CFO that led the Homeland Security Department last year to cancel its financial management modernization program known as eMerge, after investing more than $52 million -- but well before spending an estimated $229 million on the system.

Homeland Security, which was formed from the merger of 22 agencies in 2003, inherited dozens of separate financial systems that were unable to share data across the department, creating a host of problems with functions ranging from paying employees accurately to processing travel vouchers. The eMerge program was intended to integrate finance, accounting, procurement and asset management systems, but it ran into technical challenges and the department cut its losses, said David L. Norquist, Homeland Security's chief financial officer, at a Senate hearing in June.

Homeland Security is migrating agencies to one of two finance and accounting systems adopted by the Customs and Border Protection directorate and the Transportation Security Administration. "When you review the different systems the department has, these two agency solutions stand out. They use core accounting applications that are also used by other large federal agencies with unqualified audit opinions," said Norquist.

Rather than buy a new departmentwide system, Homeland Security plans to migrate nearly all agencies to either the TSA system or the CBP system by 2011. At that point, the department plans to choose one of the two to meet all its financial management needs.

When it comes to financial management, the Defense Department remains the elephant in the room. With an operating budget that dwarfs all other agencies combined, finance and accounting systems there are hugely complicated, and most weren't designed to provide data in the way agencies are now required to provide it.

By focusing on material weaknesses that are problems across the department, Defense is making measurable progress, according to a senior official at OMB: "They have very specific action plans associated with strengthening controls around the inventory and valuation of those different items, and they've made measurable progress in improving the readiness of those audit areas."

This year, in a first for any large component of the Defense Department, the Army Corps of Engineers is going through an outside audit. The audit, which was being conducted "off cycle," according OMB, was not yet complete at press time, "but the fact that they were ready to do an audit and have gone through 97 percent of the process at this point -- and things look like they went very well -- is tremendous progress," the OMB official says. Another major entity at Defense -- the Marine Corps -- is nearly ready to face outside auditors as well.

-Katherine McIntire Peters, GovExec.com


Friday, September 21, 2007

Watchdog finds DHS division improperly transferred funds

A branch of the Homeland Security Department improperly transferred money between appropriation accounts in 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office.

DHS' Preparedness Directorate developed a complex system to pool funds from different appropriations accounts to pay for directoratewide management and administrative needs in fiscal 2006. But according to a Sept. 17 letter from GAO to the Senate and House Appropriations committees, the agency did not meet the legal requirements to make such a move.

The letter said the department should adjust those accounts, and noted that if any of the accounts lack unobligated balances to cover the adjustments, the department violated the Antideficiency Act and should report the violation. The Antideficiency Act prohibits agencies from spending money they have not been appropriated.

The Preparedness Directorate, which has since been dismantled, was created as part of a departmental reorganization in 2005. For fiscal 2006, the directorate was financed through eight separate appropriations accounts. According to DHS, the appropriation for management and administration was far below the level necessary, in part because the reorganization that created the directorate occurred after the department had submitted its fiscal 2006 budget justification to Congress.

According to the GAO letter, congressional appropriators gave the directorate about $16 million for management and administration, while the actual costs totaled about $59 million. Because the directorate did not have enough money for some directoratewide services, it pooled funding from different appropriations accounts to pay for them.

Sharing funds across appropriations accounts is tantamount to transferring money between accounts, GAO said in the letter. These transfers are generally illegal. Three separate laws provide exceptions that would allow DHS to make the transfers, but each comes with limitations and requirements, and the department failed to meet the requirements, according to the watchdog agency.

-Zack Phillips, GovExec.com


Thursday, September 20, 2007

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - Curt Coy (ACF)

Administration for Children and Families

Curt Coy - Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration

As if being a chief financial officer isn't tough enough, try being the chief information officer to boot. It is a challenge that Curt Coy has taken on for a number of years. He says the combination may not work for every agency but that at ACF it ensures that IT is leveraged to support the agency's financial backbone and further the mission. Still, Coy says no matter which model you choose, the need for IT and financial leaders to work together is only going to become more crucial as the amount of resources available for IT investments continues to shrink. He also talks about the impact newer government workers are having when it comes to integrating IT into solutions across the board, the resulting impact on the PMA and becoming a shared service provider for grants with a web-based system.

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Today's GAO Publication

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following testimony:

21st Century Challenges: How Performance Budgeting Can Help.
GAO-07-1194T, September 20
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071194thigh.pdf

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

OMB finds performance of federal programs improving

More than three-quarters of federal programs assessed by the Bush administration for management and effectiveness are performing at least adequately, new data indicates.

On Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget released the results of its sixth annual Program Assessment Rating Tool evaluations. The agency looked at 48 programs for the first time, with 77 percent receiving grades of effective, moderately effective or adequate.

OMB also reevaluated 73 programs, including 30 that originally received grades of ineffective or results not demonstrated, the latter indicating a lack of meaningful data or performance goals. Of those programs, more than 93 percent are now ranked as having an adequate or better performance.

Overall, OMB has evaluated 1,016 programs -- accounting for $2.6 trillion in federal spending -- finding that 78 percent are operating at least somewhat effectively. Those figures represent a 3 percent uptick from last year.

Typically OMB releases the results of program assessments along with its budget request in early February. But the administration released the evaluations early this year to get a head start on the process.

The latest data shows the majority of all programs (60 percent) falling somewhere in the middle of the pack, performing well enough but leaving significant room for advancement.

The PART ratings are determined through agency answers to 25 standard questions detailing the program's performance, management and design. OMB assigns a point to each answer and the accumulated score represents the final grade. Program managers can appeal their grade. This year, 45 such appeals were filed, with a third upheld.

The assessments are a significant tool for the administration when making funding decisions for individual programs. President Bush has used the rating tool, in part, to justify cuts in his annual budget requests to Congress. Administration officials note that the rankings are not the only consideration in determining if a program should be cut or eliminated.

The public can view the PART evaluations at www.Expectmore.gov. A new option allows citizens to search through the rankings of all programs for an entire agency. The tool provides viewers with a cumulative look at how the successes or failures of individual programs fit into an agency's overall performance.

-Robert Brodsky, GovExec.com

ED FSA is Looking for a CFO

Department of Education - Federal Student Aid
Posted: September 18, 2007

Title: CFO

Duties: The Chief Financial Officer serves as the principal financial advisor to the Chief Operating Officer of the Federal Student Aid Department of the U.S. Department of Education on matters related to planning, budgeting, finance and procurement functions. He/she serves as the principal senior executive in FSA responsible, for long-range, strategic and operational planning; performance measurement; budget interpretation, formulation, justification and execution; financial accounting; planning and implementation of fee setting and collection activities; procurement activities; and, in collaboration with the Chief Information Officer, financial systems management. The CFO provides administrative oversight to the activities of the Financial Management Group, Asset Management Group, Budget Group, and Financial Management Systems Group, and manages a diverse work force consisting of approximately 75 employees with four direct reports and one deputy.

Experience: Requirements are at least ten years experience in the financial management field, an advanced degree, such as a Master’s in Business or Public Administration, and experience managing a minimum of 30 employees in an organization that generates a minimum of $100M.

Tiffany McCarty
JDG Associates, Ltd.
1700 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850
Email: mccarty@jdgsearch.com


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Today's GAO Publication

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following testimony:

Department of Homeland Security: Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions, by David M. Walker, comptroller general of the United States, before the House Committee on Homeland Security.
GAO-07-1240T, September 18.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071240thigh.pdf

Monday, September 17, 2007

Commentary: Fixing a $100B problem

How do we attempt to reduce the $100 billion interagency out-of-balance problem?

It may appear to be an arcane federal government accounting topic, but it is a problem that we can and must solve.

To that end, Ken Carfine, fiscal assistant secretary of the Treasury Department, and I are working as co-leads on the Central Reporting Team working group under the Chief Financial Officers Council.

All federal agencies trade with one another. We each keep track of what we procure. Virtually all of the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies get an individual clean audit opinion. But we frankly don’t do a good job of reconciling what we spend with one another. Many of us spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to get our intergovernmental transactions to balance. It is a struggle for agencies to even locate the right people to respond to requests for help in resolving these issues at other agencies.

There are three primary types of interagency activity. The first, including fiduciary balances, is created when one agency manages funds or borrowings on behalf of another. The second happens when agencies are required to transfer funds between them by agreement or statute. The third major category is created when agencies buy and sell goods and services with each other.

So how do we try to solve this material issue? First, we create awareness and thus accountability for fixing the problem. We have added a watch list for agencies that have either large or chronic out-of-balance issues with their trading partners. The Office of Management and Budget will soon require corrective action plans from those agencies. Regular reporting will occur at the CFO Council meetings. The Treasury Department, working with various agencies, has already reduced fiduciary differences by several billion dollars.

Second, we are addressing the root causes that create the out-of-balance situations. These can arise due to timing differences, different accounting treatment of the same item, lack of notification and communication. We are working to improve the detailed level of reporting to provide a better starting point for reconciliation. Agency use and enforcement of the Intergovernmental Business Rules issued in October 2006 will serve as good business protocols for trading partners.

Third, we will address business process changes that need to occur in order to reduce the problems. This may require improvements to the existing technology to process the workflow. Notice I did not say we have to build a new multihundred million-dollar system to tackle this problem. We realize the current information technology budget realities and the fact that many agencies have legacy systems that will live for a long time to come. We are closely monitoring a pilot project at one of the largest federal agencies to see what application, if any, it can have on the larger universe of agencies. Using Web-based technologies, combined with improved and automated business processes, will greatly reduce the out-of-balance items in the first place and the workload required in the event an out-of-balance occurs.

Our goal is to have an initial set of recommendations to the CFO Council by next spring. These improvements should dovetail with other council efforts to standardize governmentwide accounting practices and modernize systems.

-John Cox, CFO, HUD, Published on FederalTimes.com


Friday, September 14, 2007

Agencies need to improve service-level agreements

For the Office of Management and Budget’s Line of Business initiatives to work successfully, agencies must learn to write better, more comprehensive service-level agreements.

Federal experts said that is one of the most difficult parts of the shared-services concept.

“Writing SLAs is a weakness in the fee-for-service model,” said Danny Harris, the Education Department’s deputy chief financial officer, during a panel discussion on shared services.

Harris, who also is chairman of the CFO Council’s Financial Systems – Financial Systems Integration Office (FSIO) Oversight Transformation Team committee, said too often agencies write ambiguous SLAs that results in disagreements among providers and customers.

Mary Mitchell, the Financial Management Line of Business program manager and executive director of FSIO, said her program office has released SLA templates for agencies to use. FSIO asked providers and customers to update their agreements based on these templates, she said.

But the challenge is customer agencies have fewer disincentives with federal providers than with private-sector providers, Mitchell said.

Dick Burk, OMB’s chief architect, said the way and ability to terminate a shared-services agreement still is a gray area in the initiative.

Harris added that having financial-management standards also will make it easier to migrate because vendor’s products all will be similar.

Mitchell said agencies have had standards, but there has been too much flexibility or variation in how they were applied. FSIO and the FM LOB are developing and mandating specific standards such as a governmentwide cost accounting standard.

-Jason Miller, FCW.com


Thursday, September 13, 2007

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - Dave Nicholson (TSA)

Transportation Security Administration

Dave Nicholson - Assistant Administrator for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer

It has been a bit of a bumpy flight for the TSA, going from 16 employees to more than 60,000 in a matter of months. Nicholson says that type of quick growth combined with the high profile responsibilities of keeping the skies safe makes it imperative to keep track of the details, something TSA did not do well at its inception. However, he says like many start-ups in the private sector, the maturation process at TSA has resulted in better systems, procedures and flexibility to take on and support the mission. Still, Nicholson says the crux of his job is to keep up with the operational planners and know what they are thinking so he and his staff can best advise them on making the most of the funds at hand.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

USDA picks Accenture to modernize financial systems

The Agriculture Department awarded Accenture a $102.6 million contract to replace its core financial-management system to provide general accounting, funds management and financial reports.

The contract includes program management, transition and migration support, application and integrator services and hosting services for the USDA Financial Management Modernization Initiative, USDA said in its posting on Federal Business Opportunities.

USDA’s integrated system is expected to improve its financial-management performance, align with its enterprise architecture and best practices, and comply with federal system standards. It also will streamline financial-business processes across the department.

Over time, the system will support federal e-authentication requirements and a single point of validation and access for vendor data. It will also be designed to integrate with e-payroll, e-government travel and Grants.gov systems.

The contract runs for a base period of one month with nine one-year options. During the base period, Accenture will develop a draft Financial Management Modernization Project Plan, according to details USDA has previously posted on the site.

During the first option year, the contractor will focus on system analysis, application system configuration and development of interfaces to USDA enterprise legacy systems. Accenture also will plan for agency deployments, data migration and training.

During the subsequent years, the contractor will deploy the application, develop agency feeder system interfaces and operate and maintain the system. The department anticipates full implementation by mid-2011.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Today's GAO Publication

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following report:

Department of Homeland Security: Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions.
GAO-07-454, August 17.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d07454high.pdf

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - John Gentile (FDA)

Food and Drug Administration

John Gentile - Deputy Chief Financial Officer

A quick look at the headlines is all you need to know that the FDA is constantly in the spotlight. As a result, Gentile says there is a lot riding on the budget. He says the agency, from top to bottom, is constantly taking the pulse of the country, and of the world, to understand how best to allocate the taxpayers' money. The FDA is also in the process of putting the finishing touches on its new, financial management system, which will allow the agency to give managers financial dashborads -- so they can get real-time information and make better decisions. The new system has also allowed the FDA to take some financial responsibilities away from scientists and researchers, who are now free to focus on their core missions. At the same time, the new, unified system will allow the FDA to see information coming from other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Resources.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale's Blog: Financial Management

Shana Dale discusses NASA's financial management history and plans for improvement in the areas of internal controls, material weaknesses, management challenges, processes, tools, and PP&E. Ms. Dale also commends the deputy CFO and appointed CFO in her blog post.


Today's GAO Publications

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following reports:

Defense Business Transformation: Achieving Success Requires a Chief Management Officer to Provide Focus and Sustained Leadership.
GAO-07-1072, September 5.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071072high.pdf

National Flood Insurance Program: FEMA's Management and Oversight of Payments for Insurance Company Services Should Be Improved.
GAO-07-1078, September 5.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d071078high.pdf