GSA reopens financial schedule

The General Services Administration last month reopened its schedule for auditing and financial management services in what agency officials hope is a move that will fill a growing gap at agencies experiencing shrinking staffs and growing auditing troubles.

Several federal regulations and mandates—including the Government Management and Reform Act, the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act and the Government Performance and Results Act—require agencies to audit programs and financial management.

But with reductions in the federal work force, agencies have fewer employees to run, monitor and audit programs, and many agencies are turning to commercial outsourcing and the GSA Federal Supply Service's Auditing Services and Financial Management Services (AS/FMS) schedule.

"This is to assist federal agencies with complying with those mandates," said Alexandra Walter, a contract specialist at FSS. "They're not new mandates, but as more and more agencies are being downsized, they have fewer people available to do these things."

The schedule has been available for a year, but GSA is reopening the schedule as an open-season, standing solicitation. This allows additional vendors to come onto the schedule as technologies and needs change, Walter said.

GSA also can modify and add functional areas to the schedule. Two areas added in this solicitation include recovery audits, which help agencies identify overpayments to vendors, and the ability for agencies to outsource reoccurring financial management services such as payroll, application and claims processing.

At the same time GSA reopened the financial management schedule, the General Accounting Office released the second full audit of the government—the 1998 Consolidated Financial Statements of the United States Government—and found that it could not provide a full opinion on the reliability of agencies' financial statements because agencies had many deficiencies in financial systems and reporting.

As a result, Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, gave half of the agencies audited in the GAO report failing grades on their ability to manage financial information [FCW, April 5].

Many of the weaknesses in agencies' financial information can be attributed to old financial management systems that do not meet current requirements, a lack of complete processes and controls, and poorly trained personnel, according to a written statement that GAO comptroller general David Walker submitted to the subcommittee.

The AS/FMS schedule covers most of the areas addressed by Horn and the GAO report, including financial and performance audits; financial planning, management and systems controls; and inventory management services. In addition to providing a staff that can conduct audits and create or modify systems, vendors also can offer training, course development and instruction.

Many agencies are glad to take advantage of such a readily available vehicle, but while GSA has made the task of improving systems and processes easier, it does not complete the job, said Karen Alderman, director of the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, a federal group funded by the Treasury Department that promotes best practices for financial management.

"It's one thing to reduce the cost of acquiring services and systems...but the actual acquisition of the services and systems, implementing the systems and conducting the change management at the agency to take advantage of that also takes a lot of resources," she said.

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