CFOs: Something's Gotta Give
Survey on federal financial executives shows struggle to achieve results in the face of increasing requirements and a demoralized workforce
Continuing to provide adequate services in the face of unprecedented across-the-board cuts; a declining, dispirited workforce; and growing financial and other management requirements is the top concern of federal Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), according to the 18th annual Federal CFO Survey conducted by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) in partnership with Grant Thornton LLP.
CFOs crave a clear and consistent framework that helps them set priorities and accomplish goals important to their leadership. Unless a new, focused management agenda is put in place, CFOs fear they can't continue to meet growing requirements in the face of extraordinary challenges.
When asked about their greatest challenges, almost a third of financial executives interviewed and a quarter of those who responded on-line said the services they provide are at risk in the face of growing requirements and declining resources, including people. "Government needs to adjust expectations based on the funding it has. Government can do all the old jobs poorly, or it can do the new jobs well," noted AGA Executive Director, Relmond Van Daniker. He continued, "CFOs cited many serious short- and long-term challenges. However, they are in a position to lead their agencies and the government as a whole to sustainable solutions to these challenges."
Other findings of the survey illuminated the challenges facing CFOs. They met the data quality and reporting challenges of the Recovery Act, but they do not see lasting benefits from those transparency efforts. Internal control activities produce benefits, but their application appears focused on financial reporting rather than program performance. CFOs embraced major Administration initiatives like the Campaign to Cut Waste and Reducing Improper Payments, but because they have to implement the mother-of-all across the board cuts, more mature cost management is lacking.
AGA and Grant Thornton conducted in-person interviews with more than 100 U.S. federal financial leaders and senior leaders of oversight groups such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Approximately half of these interviewees had job titles of CFO or Deputy CFO; others were direct reports or other financial executives. Almost 200 other federal financial leaders participated in an online survey. Both online and in-person survey instruments included closed and open-ended questions. AGA and Grant Thornton have conducted this survey annually since 1996.
The report is the product of AGA's Corporate Partner Advisory Group (CPAG) research project sponsored by Grant Thornton LLP. The project leader for this research report was Denise Lippuner, CPA.