Federal CFOs warn presidential transition may disrupt reform plans
Federal civil service chief financial officers (CFOs) in the US have spoken of their concerns over the possible abandonment of key management initiatives in the imminent transition to a new administration.
AGA, the member organisation for government financial management professionals, and Grant Thornton Public Sector have published the findings of a survey of federal CFOs on the pending transition, in the latest of a series of reports by the two bodies on the CFO community.
Survey respondents raised concerns over the possible impact of new leadership on existing management programmes that require long-term commitment. In the past, the report says, management initiatives have been abandoned by new administrations in favour of “fresh, but different approaches”. But CFOs are against “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, as that would mean starting over and losing ground on recent progress.
One specific fear expressed by survey respondents was that ongoing work to move agency financial systems to shared services could be dropped. This transition has faced some resistance, but the report highlights the number of shared service initiatives now underway in various US federal departments as evidence that the idea is taking root and should therefore receive continued support from the incoming administration.
“As it stands, we’re probably in the third inning [with shared services], and we need the next administration to get us to the fifth inning… each administration has a different level of commitment to financial management,” one CFO quoted in the report said.
In the inevitable turmoil and shift in priorities that come with a change in administration, the CFO said, it falls on the “career people” to try to maintain momentum on programmes requiring sustained commitment.
Another agreed, adding: “Trusting progress to career employees is an imperative agencies have learned well. During a presidential transition, the top one or two political appointees will go, and the career people essentially become the acting leadership, and the career folks have to keep the momentum going.”
The report argues that the incoming administration should recognise the “lynchpin” role CFOs play in helping new leaders stay on top of finances and ensure the right conditions are in place to allow them to operate effectively.
“Clarifying the role of the CFO across government would ensure the function was optimised,” the report says. “Sustaining initiatives that show promise would ensure progress toward better financial management practices is not discarded for newer, unproven activities. Most importantly, perhaps, is ensuring CFOs have the resources, both financial and human, to get their varied and complex jobs done.”
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