President Obama's fiscal 2016 budget arrives on Capitol Hill.

President Obama's fiscal 2016 budget arrives on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

OMB's Management Side May Coordinate Earlier With Budgeteers

Controllers expect more agencies to embrace shared services.

The head of the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday gathered staff for a post-mortem on the fiscal 2016 budget release, OMB’s controllers told an accounting conference. The upshot, said Deputy Controller Mark Reger, was that “OMB examiners are by far the biggest advocates for their agencies, and a sense that the management side’s views should be baked into the process earlier, not at the not back end.”

Speaking to the National Leadership Training conference of the Association of Government Accountants at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, Controller David Mader noted that the management team is focused more broadly across government while the budgeteers concentrate more on individual agencies.

“We know what’s being appropriated and what we are spending and what we owe as a country,” Mader said. “The financial community has done a pretty good job with internal controls and risk management. But across government there are still more material weaknesses than we’d like, and the challenge going forward is to institutionalize enterprise risk management across government so we know whether we are really getting value from that spending.”

He outlined, as part of President Obama’s second-term management agenda, the pursuit of wider use of shared payroll and other financial services as well as evidenced-based analysis of the effectiveness of grants and loans.

 “You can’t measure progress unless you have an expectation of what a program ought to look like, whether it’s reducing homelessness or feeding hungry kids,” Reger added. “I defy anyone to take a Treasury financial statement and determine what we get for our spending. The performance data has become more robust.”

Overcoming employee resistance to shared services is “like trying to get to the summit of K2 without oxygen,” Mader said. “Every step is laborious, and unfortunately there are bodies along the road.”

He cited pressure to do more with less, but noted that in the private sector, shared financial services are “a no-brainer,” and software and processes are more sophisticated.  “The technology is there, but getting commitment from employees for more focus on making the changeover will require effort to realize the benefits,” he said. “It’s about mission and the citizens.”

Mader said he looks forward to Congress again considering an OMB-initiated bill to streamline the sale of unneeded federal property, and hopes to see more use of private-sector databases—similar to Amazon.com—to reduce the rate of improper payments by allowing agencies “more boots on the ground” to check what other benefits questionable people are collecting.

He pointed to agencies’ “steady progress” in improving audits and implementing the 2014 DATA Act.

“Whoever comes behind us,” Mader said, “I hope they will say this framework is really good and effective at managing across the complexity of this government. I believe we can make significant progress over next two years.”

Reger described OMB as made up of “incredibly fantastic people who can have impact on areas they have passion about, but the hours are awful.” Challenging the federal, state and local accountants in the audience to embrace a leadership role, he added, “The people who pay our salary have a right to expect things done efficiently.”

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