Treasury won't rest on its clean-audit laurels

Treasury won't rest on its clean-audit laurels

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

Five years after the Government Management Reform Act ordered federal agencies to audit their departmentwide financial statements, the Treasury Department in March received its first unqualified or 'clean' audit.

The journey to a clean slate was an arduous one: The department's 13 bureaus had to report their financial statements on time and accurately.

'We adopted a bottoms-up approach to get the clean audit,' said David J. Epstein, director at the Office of Financial Systems Integration. 'There was a lot of work that went into this.'

Brushing up

Many agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, had regularly received a clean chit. But others, such as the Customs Service and IRS, have faced acute financial systems problems over the years. To receive the clean audit, they made sure to submit accurate records on time, Epstein said.

This is the first time Epstein's office used the Financial Analysis and Reporting System to produce the department's consolidated statements.

The system also provided agency managers with tools necessary to analyze their programs' financial and budget execution information.

It uses CFO Vision software from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C., to produce the statements and reports. CFO Vision uses monthly data submitted by the bureaus to the Treasury Information Executive Repository, the departmental data warehouse.

But the system is merely a tool. Its effectiveness comes from how the department uses it.
'Having the system alone does not help,' Epstein said. 'Each bureau has to provide clean data.'

And once the department achieved a clean audit, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill raised the bar even higher.

The department is now faced with the challenge of reporting its financial status within three days instead of three weeks.

' 'When we can do this?' is the magic question,' Epstein said, adding that bureaus have already started work to meet next year's June deadline.

Most bureaus are working on eliminating entries and accruals to make sure that the data they put in the system is timely. Managers also are trying to improve coordination with other agencies to get data on time, he said.

O'Neill was scheduled to meet last month with the Treasury CFO Council to specify his expectations from the department, said Jack Blair, acting director of the Office of Accounting and Internal Control.

'It's more than just the production of financial statements,' Blair said.

All bureaus are working together to identify the impediments and devise an approach to overcome them, Epstein said.

'There is no specific action plan yet, but we'll kick off with the Treasury CFO Council meeting,' he said.

A typical problem the department can expect is getting timely payroll data, said Tim Lingebach, acting deputy chief financial officer.

For instance, the National Finance Center processes Treasury's payroll. 'We may get the information on a person's gross salary in three days, but we don't get the details in three days,' Lingebach said.

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