Government CFOs: Bad Data Quality Hobbles Agencies
Government CFOs say their agencies' services are at risk due to rising requirements, diminishing resources and the lack of quality data, a new report says.
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Across-the-board budget cuts, a declining workforce and the need to improve performance are some of the biggest challenges currently facing the government's top financial officers. Without a clear and consistent framework in place -- and better data -- to help assess risks, set priorities and report their successes, CFOs worry they won't be able to meet the growing requirements placed on their agencies, according to a new survey.
The lack of quality data continues to hobble many federal CFOs, according to a new annual report released by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) with Grant Thornton.
"It is difficult to get (current) cost data," said one CFO quoted in the report. Another said, "Though we are told there have been cost savings, we can't quantify them." Challenges in improving reporting and transparency lie at the heart of other challenges CFOs say they face trying to improve how their agencies manage risks, as well as costs, at a time when budget cuts and service demands are putting more pressures than ever on agencies.
A third of CFOs interviewed in person and a quarter of government financial officers who responded online said the services they provide are at risk due to rising requirements and diminishing resources. The loss of experienced people was also cited as a concern. The survey results are based on interviews with more than 100 federal financial leaders and senior leaders of oversight groups, such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The study also contains responses from an online survey of 500 AGA members, 187 of whom work for the federal government.
The report specifically addressed President Obama's second-term management agenda, announced in July. The vision, the president said, is to "use technology to allow more citizens to participate in their democracy, and bring a government built largely in the 20th century into the 21st century."
The concern for CFOs, however, is the continued budget cuts that impact service quality and delivery. Technology challenges cited by survey respondents include new financial systems and shared services -- some agencies are moving to them, while others are providing them.
CFOs also said there is a need for data analytics to deal with a vast amount of government data. In fact, they said an analytic CFO organization is necessary to provide analytics, not just data, especially if they want to supply managers with data in useable formats.
Online respondents also voiced concerns about managing data and the need for new or upgraded systems. Those who cited technology concerns said antiquated systems are a problem, and a quarter of them anticipated greater technology challenges in the future.
While many of the priorities financial leaders face remained unchanged, so has the urgency to address certain challenges, such as implementing system enhancements in an obsolete operating environment. This group also said high priorities are cybersecurity and deploying sophisticated software to replace absent employees. Federal CFOs interviewed in person expressed a particular need to leverage technology in new and better ways to make up for smaller staff.
The report's findings show that the "government needs to adjust expectations based on the funding it has. Government can do all the old jobs poorly, or it can do the new jobs well," AGA executive director Relmond Van Daniker said in a statement.
The language used by CFOs today includes words like government shutdown, furloughs, sequester and debt limit, creating an even bigger need for a new CFO management agenda. What they need, the report concluded, is a clear roadmap if their agencies are to be successful.
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