Budget 101: Managing Risks


Many of us who have no formal training or background in accounting/finance find ourselves overseeing big budgets. As we continue to advance in our careers the size of those budgets continues to grow, along the expectations and LIABILITIES. Brookings Executive Education (BEE) Finance for Non-Financial Managers course addresses some of the potential pitfalls those of us with no professional training in the field (yet we are responsible and held accountable for major budgets) face every day. Below, BEE Instructor Sallyanne Harper offers us a little advice on successfully managing this process and three key tips to keep us out of hot water.

Risk management is a key component of what we explore in the BEE Finance for Non-Financial Managers course. What risks do we mean? Typically the risks on the business side of the program arise from the resources management areas like finance, appropriations and budget, acquisition management, and internal controls. These are likely outside of your comfort zone, but essential to your success and typically among your hidden vulnerabilities as a line manager. Because they involve public funds, these are risks that can derail your career and program, lead to unwelcome headlines or earn you an invitation to testify in front of a Congressional oversight committee.

Programs often end up in trouble when problems arise over the money, contract support and property associated with executing the program or running the operations. The lack of adequate controls leaves them vulnerable to fraud, waste and mismanagement of funds and other resources.

So what can you do to mitigate some of the inherent risks associated with federal resources management? The good news is that you do not need to become an expert in procurement law, finance and internal controls, or the nuances of appropriations and budget execution. However, there are a few important steps you can take to lay the groundwork for managing program risks associated with resources management, starting with understanding how to assure adequate internal controls.

Step 1: Tone at the Top

“Tone at the Top” describes the program or operations manager’s commitment to transparency, honesty, integrity and ethical behavior, and the accountability to that commitment of the leadership team and each employee on the team. It is the essential foundation for all other resources management (funds, people, contracts, budget, and property) risk mitigation. If you and your managers uphold honesty, integrity and ethical behavior, and you do so openly and transparently, your employees are likely to uphold those values as well. That is your first and most powerful line of defense. If you get this right, you have taken one of the most important steps you can in addressing resources management risks.

Step 2: Ask the Right Questions

While you do not need to be an expert in all the business disciplines associated with getting things done in the federal government, it pays handsomely if you have some basic underpinnings. Knowing the right questions to ask (based on understanding the basics) will help you avoid potential catastrophic control failures.

Step 3: Build Your Network

You need to know who to call when in doubt or need. Build a network of key relationships beyond the technical side of the house. This would include your key contacts in the budget shop, the procurement shop, the appropriations law folks, and your financial manager. This network of expertise will not only help you know who to ask what when, but it will also help you and your program navigate the inherent bureaucracy of administrative business functions like contracting, budget and finance.

Click here for more information on the course Finance for Nonfinancial Managers.

Kimberly Hall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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LaRel Rogers

Thanks for sharing Kimberly! Currently I am a business development and events fellow and know later in my career path I will be responsible for managing budgets (whether events budget or sales forecasting) I know I will have to read about the risks associated with budgeting and I’m glad you were able to share these tips and resources!