Taking account of financial management systems (Part 2)

Why doesn't the government run like a business? The single biggest reason is that, in the decision-making process, penalties far outweigh any potential rewards.

This environment takes risk aversion to extreme and counterproductive levels. It encourages "safe" decisions that often result in government agencies clinging to the status quo rather than taking needed action to improve. Consider the following example:

In March 1996, the CFO Council issued "A Strategy of Leadership and Engagement," a document that identified the problems with, and the potential changes to, the existing Financial Management System Software (FMSS) schedule. Two and a half years later, while we are seeing progress, the government has not yet implemented its own recommendations.

Reforming the FMSS schedule as recommended will ensure that core financial system software meets federal requirements. Furthermore, it will streamline the procurement process to take advantage of procurement reforms of the past few years, making it possible for agencies to acquire the software and services they need.

The reforms would increase the software and services options available, and therefore increase solution choices, by making the FMSS nonmandatory, by separating the testing process from the procurement process and by allowing all qualified service providers to implement the software.

Pioneering organizations are realizing that they must make bold moves to capitalize on technology to improve their administrative systems and operate more effectively.

Every dollar saved on administrative processes and every hour freed from routine tasks can be redirected to accomplish the mission of the organization. Reaching this objective requires that empowered individuals keep exploring and implementing bold ideas. This approach already has spawned reform of information technology management, procurement and performance management.

The factors leading to this risk-averse environment are not limited to governmental factors. Some individuals in the vendor community exacerbate and sometimes even feed the government's fear of change because the vendors fear they might be hurt by new processes even if there seem to be potential benefits for the government.

Implementing change in government— or anywhere— is risky but necessary. Embracing change requires accepting the reasonable risks often incumbent with progress. Changing the FMSS schedule is an important example of a change that would facilitate additional financial management improvements.

The process for implementing change in the government should be adjusted so that people striving to make improvements are commended for their efforts. In the meantime, we should say "thank you" to those working to improve government financial systems and hope they will reap the quiet reward that comes from knowing that improving those systems will enable the government to do what it does and do it better.

-- Greaney is director of the public-sector center of expertise at SAP America Public Sector Inc., Washington, D.C. A certified public accountant, Greaney has worked for KPMG Peat Marwick, Computer Data Systems Inc., Texas Instruments, the General Accounting Office and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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