Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

Accountability and Oversight: Who's Minding the Store?

Academic journal article The Journal of Government Financial Management

Accountability and Oversight: Who's Minding the Store?

Article excerpt

Accountability and oversight have become two of the most popular topics in government. Everyone can tell a story in which the absence of these essential functions caused major problems for both government entities and the taxpayers they serve. Still, confusion exists over who is responsible for each and how they combine to provide greater understanding and transparency in government program management and results. In short, "Who's minding the store?"

Regardless of an entity's branch of government or whether an organization is involved in line operations or staff functions, is part of management, or is an independent auditor, being accountable and demonstrating accountability are essential elements of any organization's responsibilities. In varying degrees, oversight responsibilities extend through all branches of government.

Typically, accountability within government organizations refers to accountability over the management and execution of programs and functions, which is an executive branch function. Oversight is primarily considered to be a legislative branch function, but organizations within the executive and judicial branches have oversight responsibilities as well. These include the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), agency inspectors general (IGs) at the federal level, and for the judicial branch, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Federal IGs are somewhat of a hybrid-by law they are required to be independent, yet organizationally reside within the executive branch and report to the agency head, but are also directly accountable to Congress.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress is responsible for establishing laws. Over the years and through the enactment of various laws, Congress has directed that three central agencies establish policies and regulations for the enforcement/monitoring of statutes-OMB, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). These agencies are primarily responsible for developing, implementing and overseeing financial management laws, regulations and other guidance.

Management Accountability and Oversight

Generally, Treasury and OMB are associated with guidance development, and GAO is associated with verification and enforcement. OMB is responsible for implementing legislation such as: the Federal Managers' FinanciallntegrityActof 1982 (FMFIA), Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act), Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996 (FFMIA) and others by developing detailed policies and procedures in the form of OMB Circulars and OMB Bulletins, to be applied by federal departments and agencies. OMB has always exercised management oversight relating to executive branch agencies. However, in recent years it has stepped up its efforts with the introduction of the President's Management Agenda (PMA) and Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). The PMA defines the Bush administration's management priorities in critical management areas, such as financial and human capital management. The PMA also grades agencies quarterly on their status and progress. The PART is comprised of a series of questions and discussions between OMB and an agency that assess the effectiveness of a program in accomplishing its mission.

Like OMB, Treasury has its own systems for issuing regulations and rules to departments and agencies. The more permanent or continuing guidance is set forth in the Treasury Financial Manual, but the department also issues less permanent guidance in the form of bulletins, announcements and supplements. In addition to the Treasury Financial Manual, critical Treasury guidance covers: the U.S. Standard General Ledger (USSGL), Financial Statement Reporting (FACTS I) and Budgetary Reporting (FACTS II).

Independent Oversight

GAO is a legislative branch agency headed by the Comptroller General (CG) of the United States, which provides independent oversight of government programs. …

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