Survey says CFOs and IGs are getting along

klunney@govexec.com

Agency chief financial officers and inspectors general are working well together, and communication has been the key to their successful partnership, according to a new federal CFO survey.

This year's annual chief financial officer (CFO) survey, sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) and Grant Thornton LLP, focused on the role of oversight in federal financial management. The report, Formula for Enterprise Insight, contains feedback from federal CFOs on their relationships with inspector generals (IG). This year, the survey team included a companion report, Focusing on 20/20 Communications, an oversight survey, which looks at financial management oversight from the perspective of IGs.

"This year's survey process was particularly fascinating. Folding in the views of the IG community presents an even more complete and comprehensive snapshot of what's going on in the federal government," said Charles W. Culkin, Jr., AGA executive director.

The 2001 survey, which focuses on the impact of electronic government on the financial management community, will also include the IG perspective.

Since 1996, the anonymous CFO surveys have collected information through a series of meetings with CFOs and other federal financial managers on topics relevant to the federal financial community. Previous surveys have focused on the challenges of downsizing for financial managers and the role of technology in doing business.

This year's CFO and oversight surveys were conducted separately. The 2001 survey, which focuses on the impact of electronic government on the financial management community, will include feedback from both the CFO and IG communities in one joint report.

Both CFOs and IGs repeatedly stressed the need for good communication and strong partnerships between both groups in addition to sharing best practices.

The 2000 CFO survey looks at five areas of concern to financial managers regarding oversight, including:

  • Relationships with the Oversight Community:
    Both CFOs and IGs want to develop strong partnerships with one another. Both groups also agreed on improving oversight planning, methods and guidelines. CFOs reported that their relationship with other oversight agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department, were "getting better."
  • Financial Measurement and Accountability:
    Accountability reports, performance reports, and activity-based costing and management have expanded the CFO's role in agency-wide measurement, allowing managers to track progress continuously throughout the year. CFOs reported improvements in the quality and reliability of financial data, allowing oversight to focus more on the analysis of that data. CFOs also praised the trend toward merging financial and performance information in accountability reports, which will result in more technological improvements.
  • Internal Organization and Management:
    Some CFOs suggested using bureau-level financial managers as oversight agents. "Oversight at the department level should be strategic, not operational. The bureaus would be the ones conducting operational, tactical, staff-type oversight activities," said one CFO. Other CFOs strongly discouraged the idea of self-review, saying that program offices are too close to the situation to review themselves. Others suggested a combination of independent and self-review.

The oversight survey focused on communication between the IG community and its five basic stakeholders: agency managers, oversight staff, Congress, the public via the media, and key oversight and membership organizations.

According to the report, IGs stated almost unanimously that access to agency senior level managers was available upon request. IGs said that keeping their own oversight staff abreast of issues and maintaining a dialogue with Congress and other stakeholders are important.

Despite all the information-sharing, IGs emphasized the need to remain independent and objective. "We keep congressional staff informed. We welcome their input but we are not seeking approval," said one inspector general.

Both reports are scheduled to be posted on Grant Thorton's Web site at www.grantthornton.com/government by the end of this week.

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