Agencies will use common metrics to track finances

By June, the Chief Financial Officers Council expects agencies to begin using new governmentwide performance indicators to report the status of their finances.

By the end of next month, the council plans to issue its set of metrics. So far, the council has settled on eight measures but could add more later, Office of Management and Budget controller Linda Springer said this month at the FOSE trade show in Washington.

'We believe there are certain things that are common and relevant across all agencies,' Springer said.

Springer and JoAnn Boutelle, deputy CFO for the Defense Department, discussed the council's draft list of metrics.

Although performance indicator is what Springer called an in-vogue term, the government's CFOs think metrics matter all the time, she said.

The challenge for the council was to settle on just a few metrics that would be of most use to department secretaries, agency chiefs and their deputies.

Getting the council's CFOs to agree on common definitions for each item has been no mean feat, Boutelle said. 'There has to be a meeting of the minds so you compare apples to apples,' said Boutelle, who is overseeing DOD's effort to create a single financial enterprise architecture'with the first version planned for release later this month.

To iron out disparities in the slightly different takes that agencies have for identical financial information, 'we had to have a lot of discussions,' Springer added.

Ultimately, OMB wants to make consolidated governmentwide data available online. Springer said she expects her agency to take responsibility for rolling up the metrics gathered by the government's 24 major agencies.

Common metrics

The council decided late last year that it made sense to have a series of metrics that could be applied governmentwide. To that end, a subgroup began meeting in January to settle on metrics and definitions that would be amenable to agencies large and small.

To be useful, such metrics must be collected, analyzed and released in a timely manner, she said. 'We want it to be like breathing.'

Most of the data will be monthly, although a few measurements will be quarterly.

Council members also believe that the data'to be helpful to agency decision-makers'must be readily accessible. That's why the council will push agencies to make their data Web-friendly.

'I can't say it enough: online, online, online,' Springer said. 'If it's paper or nothing, then do paper,' but the goal should be to make the data available electronically.

The ability to use the metrics to get a forward-looking view of finances was another factor in their selection, Boutelle said. The council wanted only leading, not lagging, indicators so that agencies could identify problems on the horizon rather than things that had already gone haywire, she said.

Agencies can use the data to resolve problems. Once an indicator alerts an agency to a problem, financial officers can drill down into underlying data and financial reports to figure out what's skewing the results, Boutelle said.

'You can't fix everything. You fix the ones that will have the most impact,' she said.

After it releases the list of metrics, the council next will set governmentwide goals for each performance measure. That will be tough, Boutelle said, because each agency is a little bit different from the next. Springer said there would likely be variances from agency to agency, but what those might be is still up for discussion.

Whatever the governmentwide goals, individual agencies must set their own goals, too, Boutelle said. 'You've got to set something that's achievable and realistic,' she said. 'If you don't set something that's achievable, people will ignore it.'

The eight metrics identified so far are:
  • Reconciled and unreconciled cash balances

  • Suspense clearing

  • Delinquent accounts receivable from the public

  • Electronic payments

  • Percent of non-credit-card invoices paid on time

  • Interest penalties paid

  • Travel card delinquency trends

  • Purchase card delinquency trends.

One possible addition to the list is erroneous payments, Springer said. But the council wants to keep the total to fewer than a dozen indicators, she said. There can't be too many or the data won't get collected and used, Springer and Boutelle said. The trick is to identify the right ones to provide information that senior managers can use, they said.

'If you have data and don't do anything with it, then it's a waste of time,' Springer said.

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