Federal CFOs: Something’s Gotta Give

Continuing to provide adequate services in the face of unprecedented across-the-board cuts; a declining, dispirited workforce; and growing financial and other management requirements is the top concern of Federal Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), according to the 18th annual federal CFO Survey conducted by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) in partnership with Grant Thornton LLP. CFOs crave a clear and consistent framework that helps them set priorities and accomplish goals important to their leadership. Unless a new, focused management agenda is put in place, CFOs fear they can’t continue to meet growing requirements in the face of extraordinary challenges.

When asked about their greatest challenges, almost a third of financial executives interviewed and a quarter of those who responded on-line said the services they provide are at risk in the face of growing requirements and declining resources, including people. “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,” noted AGA Executive Director, Relmond Van Daniker. He continued, “CFOs cited many serious short- and long-term challenges. However, they are in a position to lead their agencies and the government as a whole to sustainable solutions to these challenges.”

Other findings of the survey illuminated the challenges facing CFOs. They met the data quality and reporting challenges of the Recovery Act, but they do not see lasting benefits from those transparency efforts. Internal control activities produce benefits, but their application appears focused on financial reporting rather than program performance. CFOs embraced major Administration initiatives like the Campaign to Cut Waste and Reducing Improper Payments, but because they have to implement the mother-of-all across the board cuts, more mature cost management is lacking.

“If they are going to make lasting operational management improvements – like mature cost management, impactful performance management, and reliable risk management – CFOs need a new focus on limited priorities,” said Srikant Sastry, CGFM, Global Public Sector Managing Principal, Grant Thornton LLP. “It appears we are finally at a juncture where something’s gotta give.”

AGA and Grant Thornton conducted in-person interviews with more than 100 U.S. federal financial leaders and senior leaders of oversight groups such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Approximately half of these interviewees had job titles of CFO or Deputy CFO; others were direct reports or other financial executives. Almost 200 other federal financial leaders participated in an online survey. Both online and in-person survey instruments included closed and open-ended questions. AGA and Grant Thornton have conducted this survey annually since 1996.

To view this report, visit https://www.agacgfm.org/AGA/Research/CFOSurvey2013.pdf.

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Eric Melton

Expectation management is indeed key. Truth be told, you can only do less with less at this point. We are even at the point where even the cost to implement efficiency improvements is not doable, and simply maintaining status quo is the target in most cases. We (and all our stakeholders) need to first be satisfied with less (and later).

Joshua Millsapps

I agree with Eric below. We specialize in looking at Enterprise Portfolios to reduce cost using tools like Troux, but while we have seen enormous growth in the private sector the public sector has been flat or dipped. It isn’t because they aren’t facing the same problems – its because they aren’t able to invest in efficiency improvements. When everything goes into just keeping the lights on you can’t figure out a better way. In addition to that if you keep piling on the requirements you eventually hit the point of no return. I really feel for some of the folks I talk to in the public sector because in some cases they are simply facing an impossible mission.