CFOs: Use more financial data

Program managers could use the data to help them make better decisions

Agencies prepare numerous financial reports to comply with laws and Office of Management and Budget policies, but the data in those reports could do more if program managers realized its value, financial experts say.

For example, chief financial officers could extract financial data from year-end statements and financial performance reports to help program managers make better business decisions. The key to improving the situation is for CFOs to involve more program managers, who must determine what data they need daily or weekly in order to accomplish their goals, said Linda Combs, who retired earlier this month as OMB’s controller. “Making managerial and financial information meaningful and usable will drive better financial practices throughout every level of the business unit,” she said.

Agencies can now produce more financial data and turn it around faster because many of them are using modernized financial systems. With those and other available technologies, such as radio frequency identification and the Extensible Business Reporting Language, agencies should be able to deliver accurate and useful financial data in near real time, said Sam Mok, former CFO at the Labor Department and president-elect of the Association of Government Accountants.

Officials say program managers could be missing an opportunity when they don’t use that data. “If we can bring the benefits to decision-makers and program folks, then I don’t have to lean on them all the time,” Phyllis Scheinberg, the Transportation Department’s CFO, said at a recent industry conference. “It’s a struggle and a disappointment that we have this system, integration and good data,” she added. “But then you have program folks who don’t quite see it.”

Oversight officials point out that more data could force greater accountability. Some program managers don’t want the data because it might mean they would be held more accountable for how they use their assets, said Jeffrey Steinhoff, managing director of financial management and assurance at the Government Accountability Office.

Others don’t often use available data because they aren’t used to having it, said Danny Harris, deputy CFO at the Education Department and chairman of the Financial Systems Oversight Team for the CFO Council.

The best way to get program managers to use financial data is to foster competition among them, Harris said. The CFO’s office encourages such competition by publishing Fast Facts, a quarterly report on performance metrics. It appears on the agency’s intranet.

“Now every single program office sees how they rate on different measures,” Harris said.

The department’s CFO’s office goes further. It offers program managers help with improving their performance metrics. “We didn’t use it to just hang [program managers] out to dry,” Harris said. The CFO’s office meets monthly with each program and administrative office to help them.

“They’re not financial managers, and we’re not trying to make them financial managers, but we are trying to help them see that everything they do has a financial impact on the department’s operation,” Harris said.

Fast Facts has had an effect, he added. Education Department programs have reduced their interest penalties on payments to other agencies. Publishing those metrics has also helped the CFO’s office.
“It has forced us to generate better reports and better data,” Harris said. “If you’re going to measure someone on progress, your numbers better be right.”

To get more program managers involved in using financial data, CFOs might need to step into the role of management consultants and advisers on ways to achieve greater efficiencies, said Anton Porter, deputy CFO of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We have to change the classical view of accountants from wearing the green eyeshades to being more management consultants to program managers,” he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1986, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group