Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

Contemplating Accountability

Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

Contemplating Accountability

Article excerpt

At the end of March, the federal financial management community issued the first-ever audited financial statements for the federal government. The completion of the statements capped years of financial management reform that began with the passage of the Chief Financial Officers Act in 1990.

Unfortunately, the news organizations that picked up the story of the government audit focused on the fact that the General Accounting Office had been unable to render an opinion on the overall state of the government's finances. Reporters used words like "flunked" to describe the outcome of this historic audit.

Those in the know will tell you that no one expected anything more than what was achieved this year. Rep. cephen Horn, chair of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, opened his committee's hearings on the government's finances by acknowledging that while we have always known that fraud, waste and abuse exists in the federal government, we now know a lot more about "how much money is being wasted, where it is being wasted and what can be done about it."

Horn cited a few examples of waste uncovered by the audit: $23 billion in annual overpayments by the Health Care Financing Administration for Medicare; $1 billion each year in overpayments by the Social Security Administration for the Supplemental Social Insurance program; and $900 million in annual overpayments by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in excess rent subsidies.

Equipped with this information, agencies now can better focus their efforts and hopefully eliminate these areas of waste in time for next year's audit. And that is exactly the point of this whole exercise-to get better every year.

In his testimony before Hom's committee, G. Edward DeSeve, acting deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget said, "We knew from the beginning that this massive undertaking could not be completed in its first year, nor in its second year. For several agencies, it would take many years to obtain an unqualified opinion on their financial statements. …

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