Government accountants: Taxpayers distrust federal financial reporting
Federal financial reporting is important to taxpayers, and it can influence their vote and their trust of government, the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) said in a survey it released today.
Federal agencies fail to publicize and circulate the financial information taxpayers say they want. That creates a problem with trust, and there is a gap between what taxpayers expect and what they get, the organization said.
The public overwhelmingly believes government has the obligation to report and explain how it generates and spends its money, but it is failing to meet expectations, according to an analysis of the survey, which measured taxpayer attitudes and opinions toward government financial management and accountability, AGA said.
The Office of Management and Budget has directed agencies to modernize their financial systems, business processes and financial reporting to provide usable, accurate and standard financial information as part of the President’s Management Agenda.
The survey found that taxpayers want improved reporting and a different attitude. More specifically, survey participants urged open disclosure of spending in reports that are easy to read and honest. They would also like to see more information on Web sites and a reduction of unnecessary spending.
AGA members are working in agencies at all levels to increase levels of government accountability and transparency, said Relmond Van Daniker, AGA's executive director.
“We believe that the traditional methods of communicating government financial information – through reams of audited financial statements that have little relevance to the taxpayer – must be supplemented by government financial reporting that expresses complex financial details in an understandable form,” he said.
AGA recommends that government financial information be clear and understandable, updated regularly, delivered to all, easy to locate and honest in breadth yet technically accurate in detail, he said.
The survey also found that taxpayers consider governments at the federal, state and local levels inadequate in practicing open, honest spending.
Across all levels of government, survey participants held “being open and honest in spending practices” vitally important, but they felt government performance was poor in this area. They considered government performance poor in terms of being responsible to the public for its spending, the organization reported.
This situation is compounded by perceived poor performance in providing understandable and timely financial management information, AGA said.
“Public levels of dissatisfaction and distrust of government spending practices came through loud and clear across every geography, demographic group and political ideology,” said Justin Greeves, who led the team at Harris Interactive that conducted the survey of 1,652 adults for AGA in January.
The survey's findings include:
- Seventy-two percent responded that it is extremely or very important to receive this information from the federal government, but only 5 percent are extremely or very satisfied with what they receive.
- Seventy-three percent said it is extremely or very important for the federal government to be open and honest in its spending practices, yet only 5 percent say it is meeting these expectations.
- Seventy-one percent of those who receive financial management information from the government or believe it is important to receive it said they would use the information to influence their vote.