By Pattison, Scott D.
Government Finance Review , Vol. 22, No. 6
When I was a state budget officer, a department head called me one afternoon in a panic. The fiscal year end was months away, but his agency had already spent too much and he was going to have to lay off employees to make ends meet. I was so puzzled. He's just noticing this now? Had he not been looking at his agency's finances? You don't need to be a math whiz to look at a few simple spreadsheets now and then to make sure you are not overspending. Now, the department faced actually laying off employees and certainly faced some embarrassing newspaper articles (which did appear).
Senior officials in state and local government are understandably appointed for their subject-matter expertise. This is as it should be. You want the health department run by a doctor, an art museum run by an art historian, and the state police headed by a police officer. However, state and local governments should be more aggressive in ensuring that these well-qualified government officials have some basic financial management skills, and, if not, that financial training is available to them. For a relatively small investment of time and resources, many embarrassing and unnecessary problems can be avoided.
State and local governments should institute their own training so that it is a matter of course, requiring agency heads to receive training when they are newly appointed. There are many opportunities for training. Tap current or retired top finance and budget officials from the state or even the folks from the agency's own finance shop. Professional associations and private-sector firms, which can even tailor training for the state or locality are other avenues. …