Treasury seeks to speed financial status reporting

Treasury seeks to speed financial status reporting

BY DIPKA BHAMBHANI | GCN STAFF

The Treasury Department is trying to cut the time it takes to report its financial status from nearly three weeks to three days, as part of a larger government initiative to improve accounting practices.

The plan, mandated by Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, calls for collecting updated balance sheets from the 13 bureaus and reporting the department's overall financial status within 72 hours.

O'Neill has spoken with officials at the Office of Budget and Management and with comptroller general David Walker, who in a March 30 General Accounting Office report called for 'aggressive action to accelerate progress in financial management reform.'

Motivation

Walker cited the Chief Financial Officers Act, the Government Management and Reform Act and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act, which require accountability, cost measurement and better-informed resource allocation.

'That's what's pushing agencies to modernize their systems,' said Jerry Williams, chief of federal financial systems at OMB.

It currently takes Treasury's Office of Financial Systems Integration 20 days to get the balances from every bureau and analyze them.

O'Neill 'certainly would like it faster, but regardless of whether that can be done, we can take steps to continue to improve,' OFSI director David J. Epstein said.

He said getting more accurate updates faster depends on each bureau's ability to crunch the numbers and close the books. Technology improvements at bureaus would help, he said, because there is no core Treasury financial system.

Treasury's accounting system uses an Oracle Corp. database and CFO Vision software from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C. Each bureau, however, uses something different.


The department needs a three-day turnaround on its financial reports.
'TREASURY SECRETARY PAUL H. O'NEILL
The Customs Service uses software from SAP America Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa. The IRS has a custom application, and the Mint uses enterprise resource planning software from PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

'What would take the time is not that each has its own system but that some of the systems are antiquated,' Epstein said. And the amounts of money involved are large.

According to Treasury's fiscal 2000 accountability report, three bureaus'the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Customs and the IRS'collected nearly $2 trillion in net revenue.

Everybody's doing it

The GAO report also called on other departments to improve accuracy and speed of financial reporting. It cited records at the Defense and Agriculture departments that have repeatedly resulted in misstatements.

Financial managers have 'not yet produced auditable statements,' especially at those two departments, Walker said in the report, U.S. Government Financial Statements: FY2000 Reporting Underscores the Need to Accelerate Federal Financial Management Reform.

Problems with intragovernmental transactions, security weaknesses and aging systems have become 'obstacles to achieving an unqualified opinion on the government's consolidated financial statements,' Walker said.

Inaccurate accounting, for example, can affect procurement. 'Being able to predict what future inventory levels might be, based on prior usage, is the type of information a financial system should be able to provide,' he said. 'In some instances it does, and in some it does not.'

Batten down the hatches

DOD went from having 324 finance and accounting systems in 1991 to 96 by March of last year, 'and we expect to go lower than that,' Defense spokeswoman Susan Hansen said. DOD plans to have 31 by 2003.

Hansen said auditors are unhappy when they learn the hundreds of current systems are unable to communicate.

Citing a 1956 naval vessel purchase, she said auditors could not trace records of the vessel's sale because the department was not required to keep receipts.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service's Corporate Information Infrastructure was established in 1997 to help modernize finance and accounting systems. The goal is to integrate finance, accounting and critical feeder applications into one financial management systems, while eliminating some unnecessary or noncompliant systems by fiscal 2005.

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