Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

Toward a Report to Citizens on the State of Their Nation and the Performance of Their Government

Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

Toward a Report to Citizens on the State of Their Nation and the Performance of Their Government

Article excerpt

In September of 1990, Dick Kusserow, then President of the Association of Government Accountants, and Clyde Jeffcoat, then President-elect of the Association, established a new AGA Task Force. It was to consider how accountants could better help to:

...satisfy the information needs of the public and...promote understanding and unity of purpose to the actions required to improve and sustain the nation's economic health.

This project can be seen as an effort by accountants and financial managers to address topics that have been approached in various ways and with varying success by accountants and by other professions. For example, Bertram Gross noted:

...there has long been a tradition of trying to obtain information on the society as a whole, not merely on that part of society called the "economy. " One of the first efforts along these lines was made by President Hoover's Research Committee on Social Trends, whose influential report, Recent Social Trends in the United States, was published in 1943... A major broadening step was undertaken at the beginning of the Kennedy administration when Wilbur J. Cohen...initiated the annual HEW Trends and the monthly HEW Indicators.(2)

Gross then asked:

How can we best appraise the state of a nation. In the United States the President is required by the Constitution to present to Congress an annual report on the "State of the Union." In other countries, with or without a constitutional requirement, chiefs of state and ministers of finance customarily discharge a similar responsibility and render a public accounting of their stewardship...Economic information by itself cannot fully answer these questions. In addition to economic aspects, every situation has political, social, cultural and biophysical aspects. [emphasis added](3)

Efforts to address such concerns have been made but have foundered, at least in the sense that the government does not attempt to provide citizens with an understandable, reliable and comprehensive report on the state of the nation. Such a report would transcend accounting, but we believe that accounting and financial reporting can make unique contributions to that goal. The contributions include both the specific information that accountants can provide and the mechanism that accounting systems and auditing processes provide to assure regular, reliable reporting.

As the CFO Act demonstrates, building on the existing financial reporting framework is a promising way to assure we actually achieve the potential benefits of disseminating this information. Naturally, we focus on financial information about the federal government as our core area of concern, but we emphasize the need to broaden the traditional focus and scope of federal financial reporting.

RESEARCH AND SURVEY

The AGA Task Force reviewed some prior efforts relevant to this endeavor. The Task Force also interviewed several government officials, business leaders and academics to obtain their views concerning the need for a new report about the financial condition, service efforts and accomplishments of the federal government. They had diverse views on the best way to communicate the financial condition and results of operations of the federal government. The people interviewed by the Task Force were unanimous, however, about the need to improve the usefulness of currently available information and to communicate it to the citizens and the business community.

After considering past efforts and its own findings, the Task Force concluded that the problem of reporting to the citizens is not primarily one of inability to develop meaningful information or lack of it. Rather, the principal problem is the manner in which this information is communicated to the American citizens.

The Task Force decided to recommend an annual accountability report to citizens that would meet the following objectives:

* informs and educates interested citizens about what the government has accomplished

* communicates the financial condition. …

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