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Friday, June 27, 2008

Defense financial managers cite human capital issues as top concern

Workforce issues again dominate the concerns of Defense Department accounting and finance personnel, according to the 2008 American Society of Military Comptrollers survey.

The annual study, conducted with accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP, surveyed 575 members of the Defense financial workforce, including 61 executives from within the department and its component services. As in 2007, human capital issues "dominate the list of risks that keep executives and workforce alike awake at night."

Specifically, respondents named proper recognition and pay for individual performance, quality of work life, training, career management and succession planning, as areas of concern. The most frequently mentioned human capital risk, however, was the implementation of the department's National Security Personnel System. The rollout of NSPS, the system designed to manage more than 700,000 civilian Defense employees, has been not been smooth, and the ASMC survey showed it has mixed support. While executives overall were positive, the general workforce was far less so, but both groups acknowledged executing NSPS was a major challenge.

The survey also addressed the Planning, Programming, Budget and Execution System, another key program. The system, a revamped version of its similarly named predecessor, was rolled out in 2002 and was designed to reinforce the links among budgets, execution and performance. If implemented, proponents say it would allow the Defense secretary to assess the allocation of resources and to determine whether departments and programs were aligned with budget estimates.

Respondents expressed almost universal agreement that PPBES was the best method to achieve performance-based budgeting, and they felt strongly that the system would be effective and should be implemented.

All respondents agreed on the other primary areas of focus: departmentwide business enterprise architecture, enterprise resource planning systems development, and program efficiency and effectiveness.

This year's report highlighted the Defense financial community concerns about the upcoming budgetary realities and restrictions. An end to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could lead to a sizable reduction in funding just as all agencies now feel the squeeze of massive federal deficit and debt.

In this fiscal transition, financial leaders will be expected to assess the effectiveness of their programs and target necessities and potential cuts.

-Elizabeth Newell, GovExec.com


Thursday, June 26, 2008

GCE to upgrade Labor financial systems

Global Computer Enterprises Inc. will help the Labor Department revise its core financial management functions under a $50.3 million contract.

Global Computer will replace Labor’s existing information technology systems with a financial management system that complies with Financial Systems Integration Office and Federal Information Security and Privacy requirements, according to an award notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

Under terms of the solicitation, Labor sought to acquire Oracle Federal Financials commercial software, information technology hosting and administration, and application management and system implementation services.

Labor officials said the primary goal is to modernize the department’s ability to conduct financial management functions; reduce the disparate, overlapping legacy systems and data; and gain access to reliable, relevant and timely information throughout the department.

-David Hubler, WashingtonTechnology.com


GAO: Hold managers accountable for improper payments

Agencies are not doing enough to hold their managers accountable for curbing improper payments, the Government Accountability Office says.

Under the 2002 Improper Payments Information Act, each agency is required to estimate the amount of over- and under-payments that its programs make each year and report on the measures being taken to reduce those.

At some agencies, annual performance evaluations for managers consider their effectiveness in estimating and curbing improper payments, GAO said. But GAO said it could not determine if managers’ success in setting improper payment reduction targets and meeting those targets are factors in their performance evaluations or in pay and bonus decisions.

Additional guidance and standards on how agencies should hold their managers accountable for reducing improper payments may be needed, GAO said.

The recommendations are in a June 20 letter to Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal financial management, government information, federal services, and international security.

-Reeta Toivanen, FederalTimes.com


FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - David Norquist (DHS) - Part 2

Department of Homeland Security

David Norquist - Chief Financial Officer

In Part Two of our conversation with David Norquist, the CFO for DHS explains he's trying to take an "off the shelf" approach to upgrading his agency's financial management system.
Also: Norquist tells the story of a former boss who's "pat on the back" inspired him to do the same with his staff when they do a good job.

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Today's GAO Publication

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

Fiscal Year 2007 U.S. Government Financial Statements: Sustained Improvement in Financial Management Is Crucial to Improving Accountability and Addressing the Long-Term Fiscal Challenge.
GAO-08-926T, June 26
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d08926thigh.pdf

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Lean Six Sigma approach to transition

More and more agencies have been turning to business process improvement methodologies in the last few years. The goal is to further develop the way they meet their mission from a strategic and tactical point of view.

Now, some agencies are using one such methodology, Lean Six Sigma, to prepare them for the upcoming presidential transition.

The Agriculture Department is using Lean Six Sigma to help their career employees drive change in the government before, during and after the transition.

"They have to understand what the best practices are as they go forward," says Charles Christopherson, USDA's chief information and chief financial officer.

Along with Agriculture, the Defense, Treasury and the Veterans Affairs departments are among the agencies using Lean Six Sigma to improve their performance.

Christopherson says Lean Six Sigma is helping focus on their customer's needs.
But Lean Six Sigma also helps focus on functional areas that go across an agency.

-Jason Miller, FederalNewsRadio.com


Friday, June 20, 2008

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - David Norquist (DHS) Part 1

David Norquist - Chief Financial Officer

It has been five years since Congress and the Bush Administration pulled together more than 20 different federal agencies (some dating back to the founding of the country) to form the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security is now the third largest agency in the federal government, which means there are challenges involved when it comes to managing the finances and 'financials' while getting the best bang for the taxpayer buck.

CFO David Norquist joins FederalNewsRadio for the first of two programs on his work at DHS.

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Today's GAO Publication

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

Improper Payments: Responses to Posthearing Questions Related to Status of Agencies' Efforts to Address Improper Payment and Recovery Auditing Requirements.
GAO-08-819R, June 20

Thursday, June 19, 2008

OMB still wants agencies to be proud in 2009, 2010

The Office of Management and Budget is changing more than competitive sourcing under the President's Management Agenda.

Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management, sent a memo, obtained by FederalNewsRadio, to agency deputy secretaries May 22 detailing the administration's new expectations for e-government, human capital management, improper payments and other functions.

OMB wants agencies to submit where they expect to be under each initiative as of July 2009, and provide a brief explanation of the goals they want to achieve by July, 2010.

Agencies must do these two things and provide OMB with the name and contact information of a senior official responsible for the PMA beyond January 2009, when this administration leaves office.

Beyond the new requirements under the Commercial Services Management area (what used to be competitive sourcing) OMB is asking agencies to reduce by at least 50 percent their improper payments on high risk programs, and reduce improper payments for all programs within three years to 2.5 percent.

"[The Environmental Protection Agency] and [the National Science Foundation] have documented two years of minimal improper payments and have received relief from annual reporting per the guidelines established in Appendix C of OMB Circular A-123," the memo states.

OMB - Proud to Be Memo
OMB - Memo: Attachment 1
OMB - Memo: Attachment 2

-Jason Miller, FederalNewsRadio.com


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Today's GAO Publication

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

Financial Audit: Material Weaknesses in Internal Control over the Processes Used to Prepare the Consolidated Financial Statements of the U.S. Government.
GAO-08-748, June 17.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d08748high.pdf

FederalNewsRadio - Federal CFO Insights - Barry Hudson (PTO)

Finance Transformation

Barry Hudson - Chief Financial Officer
United States Patent and Trademark Office

Chief financial officers (CFOs) are being forced to rethink their roles and transform the organization's finance function. The dilemma: balancing the more traditional finance reporting role with that of a strategist focused on contributing value to the overall organization.

How are leading CFOs successfully managing these roles?

Discussion Highlights:

  • Four faces of the CFO
  • Steward
  • Operator
  • Strategist
  • Catalyst

Challenges facing today's CFO

  • Internal controls
  • Efficiency and cost
  • Strategy articulation
  • Performance measurement

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Are the Financial Management Winds Changing?

The AGA Blog's latest entry by OMB Deputy Comptroller, Danny Werfel addresses the question "Where is federal financial management heading in the next few years?" Below are some highlights of the posting.

...I believe the “data points” are telling us a surprisingly clear and compelling story about where financial management is inevitably headed. Federal financial management is transitioning from an emphasis on “what we own and owe” to an emphasis on “where the money is going.” I come to this conclusion by observing the increasing demand among key stakeholders (in particular, Congress) for information and accountability on where federal dollars are being spent.

The Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990 started the federal financial management journey by establishing as a primary activity the production of traditional, accrual basis financial statements, such as the balance sheet. These statements are largely anchored around asset and liability reporting, answering the question of “what we own and owe.” Federal CFOs have spent the better part of 18 years initiating the necessary controls and systems to publish reliable financial statements. Results from FY 2007 demonstrate that these efforts are paying off, with 80 percent of CFO Act agencies achieving clean audit opinions.

While the disciplines necessary to produce traditional financial statements have led to meaningful internal management improvements, the public consumption and demand for the information contained in traditional financial statements never materialized. Instead, demand has centered around how federal funds are distributed and the extent to which federal payments are made correctly and for authorized purposes. And now this demand appears to have reached a fevered pitch, with immediate and long-term impacts on federal financial management.

The recent enactment of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (“Transparency Act”) best exemplifies this. The Transparency Act requires the Executive Branch to provide, in a web-enabled and searchable environment, detailed and timely data on all federal grant, contract and loan payments that exceed $25,000. With the launch of USASPENDING.GOV in January of this year, the public has a powerful tool to search where federal dollars are going—to which parties, in what amount, in what geographic location, and for what purpose. By 2009, the Transparency Act requires federal agencies to report “sub-award” information (which means following federal funds beyond the initial recipient).

Significant work remains before all Transparency Act requirements are met. The challenge to produce this data and ensure it is timely and reliable rivals the challenge agencies faced in the 1990s when they began producing traditional financial statements. Yet, an important difference between CFO Act and Transparency Act reporting is the potential the latter has to change the way citizens use government information to drive accountability and inform the public dialogue on the federal budget.

Beyond the Transparency Act, other indicators point to growing congressional interest in “where the money is going.” Hearings and letters of inquiry in the financial management domain are increasingly focused on areas such as improper payments, charge card abuses and instances of excessive spending. Currently, there are a slew of introduced bills that would establish additional requirements for financial reporting and accountability on federal payments. The declining emphasis by congressional overseers on traditional financial statements is, in part, a testament to agency successes in this area. But it is also reflects that the connection between the citizen and government financial information goes well beyond traditional financial statements.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lines of business predicted to survive

The lines of business initiative will stay in place, regardless of which presidential candidate wins in November, according to predictions by the market research firm Input.

Most, if not all, of the individual LOBs will persist, Input said. The Office of Management and Budget program has proven useful in addressing government needs that transcend political differences.

The company divided the lines of business into three categories, based on maturity, goals, ability to standardize, and political and cultural impact.

The categories are:

* Mature shared-service center vision, such as the Financial Management and Human Resources LOBs.

* An evolving community-of-interest approach based on sharing best practices, such as the Grants Management and Information Security lines.

* Challenged efforts with limited constituencies, such as the Federal Health Architecture and Geospatial LOBs.

The third category is most likely to see some programs fall away after the new administration takes office, said Lauren Jones, principal analyst at Input.

-Michael Hardy, FCW.com


Commentary: Tackling interagency transactions can enhance transparency

The challenge of reconciling interagency transactions has preoccupied government managers for several decades. John Cox, chief financial officer for the Housing and Urban Development Department, recently identified it as a “$100 billion problem” — the difficulty of accounting for sales activity among agencies has clearly stifled financial performance in addition to being a primary barrier to delivering a governmentwide consolidated financial statement.
Until now, discussion has focused mainly on manual research and reconciliation of the interagency out-of-balance problem, which clearly remains the most urgent priority for most federal CFOs to reconcile.

At the same time, does the implementation of an intergovernmental transactions (IGT) management solution offer us a chance to look beyond this immediate need alone? IGT management is bound to be an integral part of the financial management structure at any agency, and the way it’s integrated, deployed and utilized will affect transparency and accountability overall.

Such a strategic view of interagency financial transactions can enable federal managers to address a broad range of priorities as well as anticipate the needs of their agencies for years to come. With access to modern tools, managers can deploy a commercial IGT reconciliation system in a way that will not only resolve interagency imbalances but also provide expanded benefits that can include intradepartmental transparency, more sophisticated internal controls or grant management capabilities.

-Eva Robinson and Doug Davidson, FederalTimes.com


Friday, June 06, 2008

Officials outline financial management problems

Federal agencies need to strengthen accounting practices and internal controls in high-risk spending areas if they are going to prove themselves responsible to taxpayers, a senior White House official told House lawmakers on June 5.

“The financial management community is not only responsible for reporting on the extent and nature of our fiscal challenges, it also plays a critical role in developing and implementing strategies to control federal spending and otherwise ensure that the fiscal health of the federal government remains sound,” Daniel Werfel, Office of Management and Budget deputy controller, said in prepared testimony.

To achieve these ends, agencies need to reduce improper payments, eliminate the misuse of government charge cards and make financial reports more transparent and readable, Werfel told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

By making these improvements, agencies will be able to meet OMB’s goal of getting a clean audit opinion from the Government Accountability Office, he said. Several agencies have already taken part in pilot programs to make financial reports more understandable, Werfel said. Agencies are also getting better at catching improper payments, he said.

Despite these improvements in financial reporting, GAO for the 11th year in a row could not offer an opinion of the government’s financial audits, GAO’s Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general, said in written testimony.

An audit opinion remains elusive in part because the Defense Department is not able to fix weaknesses in its financial statements, Dodaro said. GAO is also held back by agencies’ inability to reconcile their intergovernmental transactions balances with each other and government’s ineffective process for preparing the governmentwide financial statement, Dodaro said.

-Elise Castelli, FederalTimes.com


Officials: Government's finances still are not in order, despite progress

While touting significant improvement in financial management and reporting for fiscal 2007 and in recent years, key officials said Thursday they know it's not enough.

For the 11th consecutive year, long-standing roadblocks prevented the Government Accountability Office from issuing an opinion on the government's fiscal 2007 consolidated financial statements. Serious financial management problems at the Defense Department, the government's inability to account for and reconcile transactions among agencies, and ineffective processes for preparing financial statements were the primary factors preventing GAO from signing off on an opinion, acting comptroller general Gene Dodaro said in testimony prepared for a scheduled hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

While GAO couldn't vouch for the reliability of the government's consolidated financial statements, many agencies were successful in financial management and reporting in fiscal 2007. Nineteen of 24 agencies covered under the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act received unqualified audit opinions on their financial statements last fiscal year. In 1996, only six accomplished that feat.

-Elizabeth Newell, GovExec.com


Today's GAO Publications

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

Fiscal Year 2007 U.S. Government Financial Statements: Sustained Improvement in Financial Management Is Crucial to Improving Accountability and Addressing the Long-Term Fiscal Challenges.
GAO-08-847T, June 5
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d08847thigh.pdf

Management Report: Improvements Needed in IRS's Internal Controls.
GAO-08-368R, June 4.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

FederalNewsRadio - Ask the CFO - Maureen Wylie (NOAA)

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Maureen Wylie - Chief Financial Officer

Everyone likes to talk about the weather. Only, NOAA's challenge is do to more than just talk about the weather. Wylie says NOAA must find ways to go beyond the weather and make sure that taxpayers get value from a wide range of range of earth sciences. Beyond that, she says that NOAA must also find ways to meet increasing expectations from a public that has come to rely on much of the information that NOAA provides. The FY 2009 budget will also be critical for NOAA. Wylie says the President's proposal includes needed money for NOAA's GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite), will be the agency's eyes in the sky, and to help monitor critical climactic data.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

GSA Announces BAAR Bid Opening

WASHINGTON –The U. S. General Services Administration (GSA) today invited interested parties to compete for a project to replace the agency’s Billing and Accounts Receivable (BAAR) system.

GSA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) also posted a Request for Quotation (RFQ) on the agency’s eBuy web site for a 45-day period. Solicitations and/or questions related to the RFQ may be submitted through 2 PM June 12, 2008. The RFQ is for a base period of three years and one two-year option period.

The new system will establish standard accounting business processes across GSA’s financial management enterprise architecture, and produce bills for GSA’s many business lines in large volumes. The solution will address federal compliance issues required by Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), Federal Financial Management Improvement Act (FFMIA), Financial Management Enterprise Architecture (FMEA), and other federal rules and regulations to support GSA’s capabilities as a Financial Management Line of Business (FMLOB).

For more information on the RFQ, please visit http://www.ebuy.gsa.gov.



The revised 166-page OMB Circular may be downloaded from Circular A-136, Financial Reporting Requirements (June 3, 2008) (166 pages, 1.16 mb)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Commentary: Wartime financial management

Wartime financial management is arguably a Defense Department comptroller’s highest calling. As the global war on terrorism continues against a backdrop of numerous economic pressures, the mettle of those holding the checkbooks of our nation’s armed services is being tested as never before. The confluence of shrinking defense dollars, increased operations tempo and continued commitment to transparency in all we do has introduced challenges previous generations of financial managers could not have imagined.

The fiduciary responsibilities of our profession are significant. Air Force financial managers have a moral imperative to do right not only by airmen and their families, but also by U.S. taxpayers. Title 10 of U.S. Code, as well as the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act, mandates that federal financial managers use timely, reliable, and comprehensive financial information when making decisions which have an impact on citizens’ lives and livelihood. Since clearly our national defense meets these criteria, sound financial management is a matter of military readiness.

Indeed, the secretary of the Air Force himself chairs a monthly meeting whose purpose is to harmonize data and processes across the entire service to better provide Air Force leadership accurate, timely and reliable information on which to base decisions. One could thus argue that attaining an unqualified audit opinion is a byproduct of such an initiative. After all, to be meaningful, the rendering of an audit opinion is an annual occurrence, not a one-time event.

Given our responsibilities to our people and the taxpayers, we must have the self-discipline to take a hard look at our own processes and find smarter ways to do business. The Air Force Financial Services Center, the Cost and Economics Center of Expertise and the massive overhaul of our financial management curriculum are but some examples of moving our people out of a transactional mind-set and into one of decision support, all while creating efficiencies that deliver resources to where they matter most: the war fight.

Seldom has military comptrollership been as challenging or rewarding. Through sound leadership, continuous process improvement, and transparency in all we do, Air Force financial managers continue to play a central part in our ability to not only prosecute and win the conflict of the present, but also ensure continued dominance in air, space and cyberspace, well into the future.

-John Vonglis, U. S. Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, published on FederalTimes.com


FASAB Survey on Boundaries of Federal Reporting Entities

The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) has sent out a survey to federal CFOs and IGs to help it develop criteria defining the boundaries of the reporting entity. The survey seeks information on organizations considered questionable or unique when assessed in relation to the boundaries of the reporting entity and criteria used in the assessment. The survey also seeks feedback on certain aspects of SFFAC 2, Entity and Display as well as input on current proposals. FASAB would like input from the community and is asking for your help. Please take the survey by June 30, 2008.