New group backs existing financial schedule

A group of vendors and public interest groups banded together this month in opposition to the government's attempts to change the way it purchases financial management system software (FMSS).

Michael Canning, executive director of the Coalition for Federal Financial Accountability, said the software the government has purchased through the existing schedule of FMSS products has resulted in extremely "clean audits" and increased accountability of federal funds. He said the government's plans to change the way it buys FMSS are ill-advised and may jeopardize a successful program.

"This vehicle is really a certification process— a testing ground for government products," Canning said. "We need to be able to test the software before it gets to government managers."

He cited a report by the Office of Management and Budget last year that said 85 percent of the agencies using FMSS products complied with federal accounting standards. The same report found that 48 percent of agencies using non-FMSS solutions met those standards, he said.

"That, to me, is a step in the right direction," Canning said.

The current FMSS schedule, administered by the General Services Administration, will expire in September. Some vendors and users within government have criticized the existing procurement method as needlessly drawn out, with excessive levels of certification.

The process has forced some popular vendors to forego the program, which is a mandatory vehicle for all agencies purchasing financial management software. Also, despite the intensive certification process, agencies complain that the systems delivered through FMSS do not live up to expectations.

GSA personnel have been working with members of the Chief Financial Officers Council on a new contract vehicle that will correct these perceived problems. But Canning said his members are concerned about the secrecy they perceive to be shrouding the process.

"We don't know anything about the preliminary discussions of this program," he said. "It's that lack of notification that caused us to form this group. It's hard to find out anything."

A GSA spokesman said the CFO Council is determining what changes will be made to the FMSS schedule, and GSA is acting only as the procurement authority. "We defer to the council as to what should be on it," the spokesman said.He also said that the CFO Council has constantly reviewed the schedule to address complaints and to determine if changes will be necessary.

Jonathan Klem, vice president of PeopleSoft Inc.— a company that does not hold an FMSS schedule contract— said it was government officials, not industry, who were pushing for change. "It's not the industry that wants to reorganize how the schedule is chosen," he asserted. "The CFO Council itself said that the process was not consistent."

Schuyler Lesher, deputy chief financial officer at the Department of the Interior and leader of the CFO Council team working on changes to the schedule, could not be reached for comment on the coalition's complaints.

The coalition lists 24 individuals and organizations among its members, but only one— American Management Systems Inc.— appears to be a financial management technology vendor. Many appear to be retail businesses such as Score Specialty Sports, Z&N Auto Services, All Health and Vienna Aquarium.

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