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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Three steps to make it out of the impenetrable (financial) fog

In April 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote of an "impenetrable fog," much like the one that frequently blankets the nation's capital during the spring months, though the fog he referred to was perhaps not the first one that comes to mind. Instead, the fog of which the third president of the country penned was the one enveloping the financial management system at our highest level of government.

Mr. Jefferson wrote about the "great importance to simplify our system of finance and bring it within the comprehension of every member of Congress," and his goal was that "the finances of the Union be as clear and intelligible as a merchant's books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them."

Unfortunately, 211 years later, to the month, "impenetrable fog" can still be used to describe the state of financial management in the federal government.

As President Barack Obama begins his second term, a new OMB director will be taking office to shape his legacy in financial management. I believe this is a great opportunity for this administration to accomplish some game-changing results in the financial management arena without risking hundreds of million of dollars in new systems or hiring armies of consulting contractors to reinvent the wheels. If the new OMB director seizes the opportunity to update the management structure that stymied most former directors, she will put into place an historic exemplar that may be one of President Obama's most long-lasting impacts. It will also be a giant step towards fulfilling Mr. Jefferson's vision from over 200 years ago.

The key to this revamping lies in a single letter of the office's acronym: putting the "M" back in OMB by fully implementing the CFO Act of 1990 in all Cabinet agencies and strengthening the CFO structure within the agency leadership team accordingly.

A quick examination of the current OMB organizational chart will reveal that there is no CFO for the entire federal government, but there is a federal CTO, CIO, etc. Furthermore, the staffing and resources given to the "controller" pale in comparison to those of the budget examiners organization. The Controller of the United States at OMB is like the Treasurer of the United States. Both have grandiose titles, but no real authority over key management operations or programs. The OMB Controller's Office is so thinly staffed and sparsely resourced that it is severely limited in its ability to function as an effective first among equals within the cabinet CFO community.

-Sam Mok, FederalNewsRadio.com

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