State Finance Officer Certification Programs: A Study in Variation

Article excerpt

In the last 10 years there has been a major upswing in the number and variety of state-based government finance officer certification programs. Today, at least eight state government finance officer associations offer programs that result in some form of certification of the successful participants. The matrix on the following pages is a first cut at defining and describing those certification programs.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) currently has a Strategic Training Task Force which has been meeting since June 1994. The task force, comprising current and former GFOA Executive Board members from the U.S. and Canada, is examining the full range of government finance training issues, including an assessment of the appropriate role for GFOA in finance officer certification efforts. The task force will present its report to the GFOA Executive Board at its June 1995 meeting.

Since the GFOA is considering the certification issue, it is an appropriate time to look at state programs and note the elements common to all or most of the programs. The information in this article was initially presented to the Strategic Training Task Force. It is offered here in the hope that it will stimulate further discussion about the role of certification in public finance.

What Is Certification?

Certification programs usually certify individuals based on some combination of knowledge, skill, experience and/or professional activity. The person certified typically is allowed to indicate successful passage by using the initials after his or her name and is expected to recertify periodically, usually every three to five years. Similar to renewing a driver's license, recertification is under less stringent conditions than the original certification.

What knowledge and skills should be demonstrated and at what level of performance? This question has been tackled by at least eight state finance associations, and the answers are varied. At one end of the spectrum, the "Texas model" requires examinations in a group of core specialties; at the other end, Oregon relies principally on educational programs. Other states mix and match requirements to create a program that fits local interests.

Certification is not licensing, which has its basis in law and is a requirement imposed by some entity of government for the protection of the public, but rather certification is imposed by professionals upon themselves primarily for their own benefit. As such, certification is a professional issue. Licensing is a legal question.

Why Certification Is Important

"The program encourages continuing education and active participation in events which improve the skills and abilities of finance professionals. Certification promotes excellence in governmental finance and will prove beneficial to all Oregon municipalities." (From the Oregon Municipal Finance Officers Association (OMFOA) Certification Program brochure.)

Certification promotes professional excellence. It encourages an individual to seek out relevant knowledge and education and to expand his or her job-related experiences. It helps produce more competent finance officials. Recertification requirements typically help keep a finance professional up-to-date on new and fast-breaking developments in government finance. …