Manage finances to help mission, panel says

Good financial management helps agencies focus on what is important to carrying out their core missions, members of a panel said today.

Gwendolyn Sykes, chief financial officer at NASA and one of the panelists, said she had to reshape how NASA thought about its new agenda to go deeper into space. The costs of building space exploration vehicles and getting liftoff add up quickly, and the agency began for the first time doing tough independent financial analyses to see if projects were worth the money, she said.

“We can’t do those things if we don’t know how much it costs,” Sykes said at the Federal Financial Management Conference at the Hilton Washington in Washington, D.C.

NASA scientists and engineers now want the cost information to determine a project’s future, Sykes said.

Financial data pulled from strong financial management practices can bring timely, reliable information to measure costs and determine if an initiative is worthwhile, said fellow panelist Michael Hettinger, staff director of a House subcommittee overseeing agencies’ financial management.

Without cost management, agencies face budget shortfalls, Hettinger said.

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, the keynote speaker at the conference, said the government’s “financial condition is worse than advertised. … The current fiscal path is unsustainable.” He said the current budget deficit burdens each full-time worker with $375,000 in debt.

“We are mortgaging the future generations of America in a shameful way,” Walker said.

Samuel Mok, the Labor Department’s CFO and the panel’s moderator, said CFOs need to be more than compliance officers and should join the ranks of agencies' senior executives.

“They need to be key decision-makers,” Hettinger agreed.

Srikant Sastry, a panelist and a partner at Grant Thornton, said the CFO needs to play an integral role in the agency business, so the agency can speak about its priorities with one voice to congressional appropriators.

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