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Monday, March 21, 2011

Fiscal 2010 DHS Audit Reveals Deficiencies in Financial Practices

A financial audit of the balance sheet of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal 2010 was inconclusive but yielded a number of recommendations for the department to improve its financial management practices, according to a recent letter released by the DHS inspector general (IG).

DHS hired the major accounting firm KPMG LLC to audit its books for fiscal 2010 and to make recommendations on how to improve financial operations. In a letter released Friday, KMPG indicated that it could not produce an opinion on financial competencies at DHS.

"As stated in our report on internal control over financial reporting, we were unable to perform procedures necessary to form an opinion on DHS' internal control over financial reporting of the balance sheet as of September 30, 2010, and the related statement of custodial activity for the year then ended," KPMG said in its letter, included in the IG report Management Letter for the FY 2010 DHS Financial Statements and Internal Control over Financial Reporting Audit.

"We aim, however, to use our knowledge of DHS' organization gained during our work to make comments and suggestions that we hope will be useful to you," the firm added.

The audit broke down recommendations by the eight operational components of DHS as well as overall issues. It cited a large number of deficiencies at the various components but the US Secret Service escaped relatively unscathed, receiving only one major criticism. (The audit also turned up relatively few deficiencies at the Management Directorate and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.)

-Mike McCarter, HSToday.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FedCFO Opinion - Don't Perpetuate the Problem, Fix the Budget and Appropriations Process!

The federal budgeting and appropriations process is broken. Annual appropriations are rarely passed by congress and signed into law in advance of their effective fiscal year as designed. This leads to redundant and unnecessary cycles of reviews and revisions by all stakeholders perpetuating the inefficient process into following years and suppressing the ability of program managers to achieve the desired results of their programs.

The 2011 budget is just one example (this year’s) of this broken process. Currently, the President and OMB, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate are in a heated debate to resolve the political differences in opinion on the appropriations language that is to govern the current fiscal year spending which began October 1, 2010 and ends September 30, 2009. We are nearly half way through the fiscal year in which the appropriation applies. At the same time, the President’s 2012 budget has been submitted to congress for next fiscal year which begins October 1, 2011. Meanwhile, the departments, agencies, bureaus, and commissions that are funded by these eventual appropriations are already hard at work developing budgets for FY2013 without the benefit of guidance and direction derived from the current fiscal year’s appropriation (there isn’t one) nor feedback from the review of the FY2012 budget by congress because they haven’t gotten to it yet. Federal program managers, similarly, are unable to manage their current fiscal year initiatives with any certainty of when funds will become available nor at what level. New initiatives planned for FY2011 are being delayed over and over and will likely not begin until FY2012 - and only then when (if) their appropriation is signed into law. This cycle is almost certain to repeat itself next year as congress is already way behind schedule to review, negotiate, and approve the FY2012 budget because they continue to spend all of their cycles on negotiating the current FY2011 budget. Managing the government by continuing resolution is not an appropriate solution.

Lawmakers, the administration, and program managers would all benefit from an entirely different and more strategic budgeting process in which priorities are established and aligned with the tenure and terms in office of the leadership that will be accountable for the results achieved. At a minimum, two year budgeting is necessary to provide the needed time for congressional review and approval of the president’s budget submissions. A longer four year budgeting process would allow a president to establish priorities for an entire term in office and would redirect the administration’s efforts from budgeting toward managing performance. Annual performance reviews and decision points could be built into the process to provide the necessary congressional oversight and tools for re-prioritization based on current realities that would not require the same amount of overhead expended in an annual budgeting process. Obviously, these types of changes would require significant legislative and possibly constitutional changes to become a reality. However, an investment by congress and the administration of their time to fix the process is much better than expending their time to keep a broken process the reality.

-Doug Davidson, FedCFO.com

Today's GAO Publications

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

Department of Labor: Further Management Improvements Needed to Address Information Technology and Financial Controls.
GAO-11-157, March 16.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11157high.pdf

Government Performance: GPRA Modernization Act Provides Opportunities to Help Address Fiscal, Performance, and Management Challenges, by Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the united states, before the Senate Committee on the Budget.
GAO-11-466T, March 16.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11466thigh.pdf

OMB recommendation led to TASC protest at DHS

When Homeland Security Department officials agreed late last summer with an Office of Management and Budget recommendation to reduce the planned rollout of the DHS Transformation and Systems Consolidation project, they set themselves up for failure.
It was that agreement--and a failure to accordingly update the requirements of the TASC solicitation--that led in large part to the Government Accountability Office sustaining on March 9 a protest from Global Computer Enterprises of Reston, Va., against the Nov. 19, 2010 award of the $450 million TASC contract to CACI, of Arlington, Va.

The GAO released on March 16 a redacted version of its protest award decision, with source selection sensitive data such as pricing removed.

-David Perera, FierceGovernmentIT.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Less and More Than Meets the Eye in GAO Redundancy Report

In one of those apparently coincidental occurrences, the Government Accountability Office came out with its first report on federal redundancy only a few weeks after the administration announced plans to get on with the president’s pledge to do the same thing.

As deficits mount, a standard warhorse is trotted out, overlapping federal agencies. The GAO annual reports are required under a provision in last year’s bill authorizing the raising of the federal debt ceiling. The annual reports amendment was backed by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

The GAO report didn’t really come up with anything new or unknown. Mostly the staff ransacked the files and compiled a cut-and-paste from countless previous reports detailing waste and inefficiency. That’s not to say the report has no value. It does. For one thing, if the government hasn’t made progress on the items, it’s not a bad idea to repeat them. For another, the sheer weight of having the recommendations in one place gives them more, well, weight.

And to be fair, the GAO report contains ideas far beyond duplication or overlap. For instance, it contains a long section on the improper payment problem that affects DOD, Health and Human Services, and several other departments.

-Tom Temin, FedInsider.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

Werfel defends USASpending.gov accuracy

Criticisms about data inaccuracy in government transparency initiative websites could stem from inaccurate data interpretation, government officials told a House panel March 11.

In particular, an Office of Management and Budget official criticized the methodology of a Sunlight Foundation analysis that found $1.3 trillion worth of misreported 2009 federal grant data on USASpending.gov.

"We do not believe the success rate is as low as the Sunlight Foundation [says]," said OMB Controller Danny Werfel, while speaking before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and procurement reform.

Werfel cited a Sunlight Foundation finding that while the Agriculture Department actually spent $12.7 billion during fiscal 2009 on school meal programs, USASpending.gov reported only $250,000 worth of school meal spending for that year.

The discrepancy arose because federal payments worth less than $25,000 don't need to be reported on USASpending.gov, Werfel said, and amounts worth less than the threshold make up the bulk of the meal subsidy program. "That's why there's an absence of information," he said.

Education Department Chief Information Officer Danny Harris said the database used by the Sunlight Foundation to compare USASpending.gov figures--the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance--has a different reporting time frame.

"When you look at the CFDA database and you look at USASpending, the average citizen would expect to see the exact same number in both places," but that's not the case, Harris said.

-David Perera, FierceGovernmentIT.com

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Darrell Issa probing how agencies balance the books

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and his Republican colleagues are turning their attention to how federal agencies balance their books -- the less prominent, but arguably more important side of the Obama administration's ongoing "open government" reforms.

As part of the reforms, several departments have canceled or revamped the development of new business and accounting systems used to receive payments, distribute federal funds and grants, manage contracts and process worker payrolls. Many of the systems cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, but in some cases were years overdue or inoperable.

Issa -- who has openly embraced the role as the administration's chief overseer -- has vowed to give a serious look at Obama's open-government plans, arguing they've yet to endure a serious congressional review. His House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is already probing agency FOIA operations,and on Wednesday it asked for detailed information by late March on each agency's business and accounting systems. The committee also wants to know what financial information is shared by agencies with the Treasury Department and Office of Management and Budget and what, if any data, is published online for public scrutiny.

Much of the government's financial data is published on USASpending.gov, a government Web site established in 2006 by legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The site's information on federal grants is frequently inaccurate, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which has generally supported Obama's transparency reforms. Issa and his colleagues seized on the findings and are holding a hearing Friday about the report -- after all, any nonpartisan organization raising concerns with a program supported by Obama fits perfectly with their oversight plans. Future hearings are expected to focus on the information requested Wednesday, according to Issa's office.

-Ed O'Keefe, WashingtonPost.com

Doug Criscitello discusses U.S Department Housing and Urban Development

Doug Criscitello was sworn in as HUD's CFO on February 16, 2010, bringing with him 25 years of experience in government budgeting and finance. As CFO, Doug oversees the Department's financial management activities by playing three primary roles: 1) Chief Accountant and Budgeteer - aimed at ensuring HUD properly controls, spends, and accounts for taxpayer dollars; 2) Financial Risk Manager - directed at identifying and planning for financial risks, including analytically focused work involving the Department's credit and insurance, rental assistance, grant, and other programs; and 3) Taxpayer Advocate - focusing on ensuring taxpayer impacts are given substantial consideration in the development of HUD's policies and operating procedures.

The common thread of his career is public sector financial management. Within government, he has served in a number of financially involved positions at both the federal and local levels. His most recent position in the public sector was as the founding Director of the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), a municipal government agency modeled after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide nonpartisan, objective research and analysis of NYC's budget. Prior to IBO, Doug spent a number of years as a career civil servant in the federal government focused on financial management and budgeting at the Small Business Administration where he led the establishment of that agency's CFO office, the Office of Management and Budget where he served as a budget examiner in the Housing, Treasury, and Financial Institutions Division, and at CBO where he worked as a budget analyst in the Budget Analysis Division.

From 2000 until his appointment at HUD, Doug worked in the private sector as a consultant and service provider to the federal government. At PricewaterhouseCoopers, he helped establish a public sector financial services practice to support federal financial stabilization initiatives. For most of the past decade, Doug worked in JPMorgan's Governments Institutions Group, where he provided relationship management and operational, investment banking, and financial advisory services to U.S. government agencies and related entities along with multilateral development banks based in Washington DC.

Doug holds a Master of Science degree in public policy analysis from the University of Rochester.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

US Deficit Panel Official: Congress Must Tackle All Entitlements

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Any move by Congress to overhaul the Social Security program without addressing the shortfalls in the other entitlement programs wouldn't come close to resolving the fiscal crisis the U.S. is facing, the co-chairman of a White House deficit commission said Tuesday.

Erskine Bowles, who was White House chief of staff during the Clinton presidency, told a Senate panel that moving forward with changes to Social Security without also tackling Medicare and Medicaid wouldn't make any sense.

"If we only do Social Security, we don't come close to solving the problem," Bowles said in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee.

Bowles, along with former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson (R., Wyo.), led a commission established last year by the White House to compile recommendations to deal with the potential fiscal time bomb the federal government is confronted with.

He told lawmakers on the panel that addressing just Social Security would be akin to only dealing with discretionary spending by the federal government.

"If you got rid of all discretionary spending, you would still have a $1 trillion deficit this year," said Bowles.

-Corey Boles, Dow Jones Newswires

Monday, March 07, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

VA dismisses SAM contractors, suspends project

The Veterans Affairs Department is suspending immediately development of a strategic asset management information technology effort and dismissing the contractors, said VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.
In a Feb. 28 interview with FierceGovernmentIT, Baker said that the SAM program, the only portion of the Financial and Logistics Integrated Enterprise project to have escaped cancellation in July 2010, will undergo a five-month pause while the VA reexamines its development approach.

Project contractors General Dynamics and Mitre are being terminated for convenience, Baker said. Some governmental staff will be reassigned, he added.

The immediate cause for the suspension is a bad February user acceptance test made ahead of the software's planned March 29 initial deployment to the VA medical center in Milwaukee, Wis., Baker said.

The test marked the "third strike" against under project, which under the VA's new Program Management Accountability System method requires a decision on whether to proceed.

-David Perera, FierceGovernmentIT.com