Bookkeeping pressures mount

JFMIP updated core financial system requirements

With budget surpluses becoming a thing of the past, financial management is more important than ever, which means that agencies can expect to place greater requirements on their financial systems, according to senior government officials.

The Bush administration wants agencies to have clear auditable books and data for making sound management decisions, said Jeff Steinhoff, the General Accounting Office's managing director of the financial management and assurance division.

As a result, agencies will be under increased pressure to implement sound financial systems and practices, he said at a meeting Jan. 8 hosted by the governmentwide Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP).

This is becoming more challenging. While agencies traditionally have had six months to close their books when a fiscal year ends, they will have only one month to close their books by the end of fiscal 2004, Steinhoff said. This deadline could have been tighter -- one senior administration official wanted to require agencies to close their books within three days of the end of the fiscal year.

Given that timetable, agencies will be unable to undertake the Herculean efforts necessary to have auditable books, he said. Instead, they will have to roll out new commercial financial management systems more attune to the needs of federal agencies in order to do the work, Steinhoff said.

Meanwhile, JFMIP's core financial system requirements "continue to be refined, continue to be updated, and the testing has become more robust," Steinhoff said. "We are fixing the underlying problems that have rendered financial management a high-risk endeavor."

The group's final version of its requirements document, released late last year, defines the minimum level of operation that core financial systems must have to support agency missions and comply with laws and regulations. It is at the heart of an ongoing governmentwide effort to improve federal financial management systems by enabling agencies to use commercial software rather than more expensive customized packages.

Karen Alderman, JFMIP's executive director, said agencies have made progress in recent years so that 18 of the 24 agencies covered under the Chief Financial Officers Act have been able to produce auditable books. But things aren't perfect. "A lot of that is brute force labor," she acknowledged, rather than sound financial practices and systems.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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