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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Commentary: CFOs bogged down by unnecessary paperwork

More than 100 federal financial executives and managers took part in the annual survey of federal government chief financial officers, conducted by the Association of Government Accountants and Grant Thornton LLP. The survey looked at balancing competing priorities, barriers to progress and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Financial Management Line of Business initiative.

This year’s survey also turned the tables and let financial managers evaluate their evaluators — OMB, the Government Accountability Office, inspectors general and congressional committees. The evaluators seem to be taking note. OMB’s Danny Werfel mentioned the results of the CFO survey in a presentation to AGA’s Washington Chapter last month.

Generally, we found that resources are not balanced between meeting compliance requirements and adding value to program decision-making and that more consideration should be given to risk mitigation. Many respondents said the benefits of compliance do not justify the costs. Clearly, according to the survey, CFO resources are stretched too thin.

Complying with outside mandates is not the only strain on CFOs. Transaction processing and stewardship of public funds take up a significant amount of CFO time and nearly half of all resources. By contrast, strategic decision-making takes up only about one-fifth of a CFO’s time, according to the survey. I see a troubling trend.

Perhaps compliance information could be presented more efficiently as part of the Performance and Accountability Report, and the time saved could be put toward reducing risk elsewhere.

Taking a risk-based approach to oversight could ease the burden on the financial community so it can concentrate more on cost management, strategic decision-making, analysis and improving the government’s financial operations. It may be time to push for compliance requirements that support strategic decision-making. A CFO can become a much more valuable member of the team by providing data that program managers can use to improve day-to-day operations.

- RELMOND P. VAN DANIKER, FederalTimes.com

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Relmond P. Van Daniker, DBA, CPA, has been executive director of Association of Government Accountants since October 2003. Prior to that, he spent 30 years as the executive director of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers and as a professor of accountancy at the University of Kentucky.

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