XRBL holds future promise for A-123 internal controls

Williamsburg, Va.—Federal financial and IT executives risk falling behind their commercial-sector counterparts by being slow to develop the use of Extensible Business Reporting Language (XRBL) in their financial-reporting systems, a panel of federal financial experts said at the Interagency Resource Management Conference here this week.

XBRL is generating growing interest as a tool for improving internal financial and business reporting controls, said Labor Department CFO Sam Mok. He lamented how departments using the same enterprise software packages still cannot share financial information. "Putting XBRL on top of those systems would give us better access to financial information and share best practices," he said.

The metatagging language, which describes and validates common business data, is still evolving said Dr. Sridhar Ramamoorti, partner, National Corporate Governance Group, Grant Thornton LLP and Chairman, Academy for Government Accountability. But aside from a handful of financial-regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., commercial financial managers are moving much faster than is the case in government in trying to implement the language, he said.

With the Office of Management and Budget's June 30 deadline looming to implement A-123 internal controls over financial reports, financial officers could use all the help they can get. While XBRL is likely to take years to fully mature, it offers a promising tool for financial officers, Ramamoorti said.

Currently, too much emphasis continues to be focused on audits as a means to monitor the quality of financial reporting, said Mok. "Audits are not really audits but ratification of financial reports," he said.

And they're costly, said Joe Kull, director, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a former deputy comptroller for federal financial management at OMB. While the federal government has made great strides in speeding up financial-reporting cycles, there are still too many restatements, he said. "We need to be able to better understand the flow of money" in real time to make better decisions, Kull said.

Ramamoorti predicted that internal controls, and the IT systems to support them, will evolve to a three-tiered approach: detective controls, which alert management to integrity problems; corrective controls, which ensure remedies in fixing errors don't introduce new errors; and eventually preventive controls which will increasingly block common financial and business reporting errors from being implemented.

Mok also pointed to the potential of radio frequency identification technology to provide real-time snapshots on the condition and location of federal property as another means for improving the accuracy of asset management data.

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