CFOs may boost agency transparency

Chief financial officers might be required to produce data that supports more transparency in how agencies spend taxpayers’ money in financial reports in the future, according to a senior officials of the Office of Management and Budget.

The government is moving to  accountability and transparency, as shown by reports from the Government Accountability Office and legislation related to federal credit cards, premium travel, improper payments and delinquent contractors, said Danny Werfel, OMB's acting controller.

“The question of where the money is going answers a different question from what our financial statements answer, which is what we own and what we owe,” he said, referring to the basics of the government’s balance sheets. His remarks came at financial management conference today sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants’ Washington, D.C., Chapter and the Greater Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants.

In January, OMB launched USAspending.gov, a searchable site of how much in federal funds that contractors, grantees or congressional districts may have received. OMB hasn't completed the database, which will contain details of 10 years of transactions with the government. In 2009, OMB will have to provide details of sub-awards, he said.

“Transparency will become a bigger issue as it is used more,” Werfel said. ”There is an emerging issue here, and we should be prepared for it as a community.” Agency CFOs will need to improve the details in financial reports, such as where the money is going, better data quality and faster turnaround for the information.

The role of the CFO needs to be redefined to provide tools to assist program managers fulfill their missions, said McCoy Williams, managing director of GAO’s financial management and assurance issues.

“Those with the better tools will be sitting at the table when decisions are made,” Williams said, citing activities that go beyond the foundation of financial report preparer and compliance officer to financial analysis, performance metrics and forensic auditing.

CFOs say that they are overwhelmed by compliance as more financial management requirements are added without ever eliminating existing ones, Werfel said. CFOs also have responsibilities for data without the authority because program managers do not report to them. Financial operations of agencies are often complex and decentralized. And resources are shrinking, he said.

To help CFOs produce more detailed, accurate and usable information quickly, agencies need to standardize and consolidate their operations and integrate their approach to financial management under the Financial Management Line of Business initiative, Werfel said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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