Financial management takes center stage as agencies root out wasted billions

By Lisa Wolfe
Program Director
Federal News Radio

Government spending is changing — drastically. You know. You are experiencing sequestration, having to figure out how the $1.2 trillion in cuts under the Budget Control Act will affect your agency. And now, with the recently-passed fiscal 2013 funding bill, there’s more data on where your budgets drop next. All of these, really, are just taking bites around the edges of the nation’s $16 trillion deficit.

But there’s a shimmering light at the end of the tunnel held by someone with the tools, the understanding and the prominence to restore the government’s financial environment. That’s right, I’m talking about your agency’s chief financial officer.

No, not the stereotype you’re thinking; green eye shade, hiding behind his or her calculator and counting every dollar through some unknown formula on an Excel spreadsheet. Don’t get me wrong, those people still exist in every organization — and are needed. But, I’m talking about a new breed of CFO in whom are combined the mad science of Victor Frankenstein, the prescience of Gordon Moore (hint: Moore’s law), and the efficaciousness of Robert Livingston (think: Louisiana Purchase).

Federal News Radio’s week-long, on-air and online series, “Rise of the Money People: Financial management moves front and center as agencies make the final assault on wasted billions,” zeros in on CFOS and their soldiers who are in the financial wars, their strategies and tactics for waging the fight, the current and emerging weapons in their arsenal and how their future battles will unfold.

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Saving the wasted billions can’t come soon enough as federal employees are furloughed, programs and contractors are cut and agreement on future federal budgets appears remote. A House bill to balance the budget in 10 years is at odds with a version in the Senate to change the spending trajectory. Reconciliation is pursued but unlikely. So, as debate continues over how to reach a final destination, agencies have no choice but to forge ahead in the direction of financial accountability, responsibility and efficiency.

The goal of Federal News Radio’s special report is to shine a brighter light on the people and their strategies and weapons today and in the future that will help address the government’s wide-ranging financial challenges. CFOs and their staffs have spent decades working behind the scenes to administer financial management, but the time has come for them to step out and lead these efforts.

Below, is a synopsis of what you can expect from Federal News Radio’s special report this week. We hope you’ll check back each day for new articles, interviews and multimedia elements that, we believe, give a detailed look at the importance of effective financial management in the federal government.

Chief financial officers report for duty

Congress institutionalized a tighter grip on federal spending in 1990 with the CFO Act. Twenty-three years ago, the CFO Act created the internal controls and oversight and accountability systems to make better use of financial data.

Monday, Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller explores whether the CFO Act has lived up to Congress’s high expectations and whether lawmakers need to update it. He asks OMB’s first comptroller Ed Mazur, the author of the original version of the CFO Act, and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi about its implementation. He also gets the lowdown from current OMB Controller Danny Werfel about the CFO Act’s future evolution.

Check out our interactive timeline on the important moments in CFO history.

For a look at how federal financial management skills and expectations are evolving, we turn to former Housing and Urban Development CFO Doug Criscitello and Jeff Steinhoff, executive director at KPMG Government Institute. They explain how why current budget pressures have led to a Golden Age for agency CFOs. At the same time, Graduate School USA’s Steve Potts tells us why agencies need to be examining succession planning within the financial management ranks.

Gone are the days when agency CFOs stayed cloistered in their offices with the financial books. Now, more than ever, CFOs are collaborating with their counterparts across the C suite — chief information officers, chief acquisition officers and others. Linda Springer, the executive director of the government and public sector for Ernst and Young and former controller at the Office of Management and Budget, explains why agency execs are increasingly relying on agencies’ financial-management shops for data and answers.

On the Federal Drive, Tom Temin and Emily Kopp find out why the role played by actuaries is important in determining future capital outlays that could enlighten or even help predict future financial planning.

Even beautiful strategies need results

Winston Churchill believed no matter how well-conceived the strategy, it was still required to produce the desired outcome. Tuesday and Wednesday, our special report focuses on the methods developed by civilian and defense financial leaders.

Federal News Radio’s exclusive survey of federal CFOs from large, small and independent agencies reveals financial leaders are influencing programs and projects through more than just the bottom line.

Sam Mok, former CFO of the Labor Department, provides a list of tips and strategies to help agency CFOs make it through the financial-management fog.

Agencies, led by the General Services Administration, are struggling to review and dispose of the billions of dollars tied up in unused or unwanted real estate and property. The administration’s civilian-BRAC concept failed in Congress and now OMB has launched its “Freeze the Footprint” initiative.

Tuesday, Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on the Federal Drive interview Dorothy Robyn, the commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, on its strategies for better building use and consolidation and disposal of excess property — an issue, as of February, the Government Accountability Office still considered high risk because of ongoing management challenges.

Federal News Radio’s Jack Moore has taken an in-depth look at some of the properties still owned by the government and he shares his results with you. You may end up scratching your head after you see what he’s found.

(Click here to view a slideshow of some of the odd and outlandish properties GSA has hung the “For Sale” on.)

OMB’s newfound push to move agencies toward shared services for financial management will have very particular repercussions for the Interior Business Center and the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service — more customers.

Both agencies are federal shared-services providers.

Joseph Ward, director of the Interior Business Center, and Esther Horst, financial management assistant director, already have helped Interior’s CIO office secure cloud-based services and helped the Fish and Wildlife Service consolidate payment processing. On In Depth with Francis Rose, they discuss what’s next on their agenda.

Then, Kim McCoy, chief information officer for Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Service, joins Jason Miller on Ask the CIO for a look at how BFS is preparing its systems and network now for the likely upsurge in federal customers later.

The White House is leading a new effort to review the efficiency of the $600 billion in federal grants it gives out. In this fourth attempt at improving grants management, OMB proposed a rule that would strengthen the oversight of grant dollars, among other things. In fact, if you would like to leave a comment on the rule you have until June 2 to do so.

But in the meantime, Federal News Radio’s Tom Temin and Emily Kopp get an inside look at the playbook of the evolving grants-management business from Tim Lawler, a certified government financial manager with Grant Thornton.

Plus, track agencies’ progress in obtaining clean audits and how that can help the federal government, as a whole, get its long sought “clean” audit opinion. Bob Dacey — chief accountant for the Government Accountability Office, a member of the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board and an adviser to the comptroller general on accounting and auditing matters — discusses whether a bad audit really affects agency operations.

Another area of financial management that has long vexed agencies is the payout of improper payments. The Health and Human Services, for example, handed out $65 billion last year that it shouldn’t have. Kay Daley, the assistant inspector general for audit services at HHS, explains how the department is addressing its improper-payment issues.

In the gambling world, high risk leads to high rewards. In the federal government, and particularly financial management, getting rid of high risk leads to high reward. Find out how the Air Force Materiel Command is learning that lesson with a new program called High Velocity Maintenance.

The RAT that begat the GAT

One weapon that has produced excellent results and has since turned into a best practice for the government is the creation of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The RAT Board owes its existence to the need to account for billions of dollars in federal economic aid, and it proved its worth well beyond the 2009 law. Congress has now given the RAT Board oversight of the relief spending efforts tied to Hurricane Sandy.

Its success also led to the creation of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. On Thursday, Federal News Radio’s Michael O’Connell examines how these types of boards could be used on a wider scale to help agencies manage the dollars going out their doors, with expert analysis from RAT Board Executive Director Mike Wood and Kathleen Tighe, the chairman of the board.

The successful use of data by the RAT/GAT Boards is a lesson to remember. Overall, CFOs are moving to a data-driven, decision-making model. Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller looks at how CFOs are using data more than ever to influence spending decisions, smoke out waste and save billions.

The Next Robert McNamara — financially speaking

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and a man who implemented a systems-analysis approach to defense budgeting, changed forever how DoD plans for the future.

It was a massive mental exercise to overlay systems analysis to the Pentagon’s unreasonably complex planning process. And complex as the largest federal department is, it is just one department. How would one apply today’s version of a revolutionary systematic data-driven process to federal financial management as a whole? Would it be practical? Is it even possible?

Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Jared Serbu explains what comes next for DoD as it works on getting its books in shape to keep its commitment to a clean audit by 2017. DoD is the reason the government can’t get a clean audit opinion.

A bevy of federal experts offers insight into why DoD has struggled to get its financial house in order, including former Defense Department CFO Al Tucker and GAO’s Asif Khan.

But at least one defense budget expert thinks DoD’s march toward financial auditability is a road to nowhere.

While many of the nitty-gritty financial-management strategies take place at the agency level, Congress also has a role to play. And we go straight to the source.

In special columns for Federal News Radio, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) stresses the importance of agency collaboration in financial management, and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) calls on the government to better utilize and manage its assets.

We’ll finish the week with an in-depth look at what comes next for federal agencies, as a whole, as they strive to account for and save money in the most efficient and effective ways.

We hope you’ll join us and leave your comments, questions and suggestions along the way. You can reach us on a host of different media including: email, Facebook, Twitter and by phone (202) 895-5086. And, feel free to leave comments on any of the articles included in this series. We’ll be looking at them along the way.

Full Report: Rise of the Money People

Part 1: Soldiers in the Financial Wars

Part 2: Strategies and Tactics for Waging the Fight

Part 3: Weapons in the Arsenal

Part 4: Future of Financial Management