The Association of Government Accountants (AGA) is a nonprofit professional organization for accountants employed in federal, state, local, and international government financial management. Its website at http://www.agacgfm.org provides a number of resources for its members and the general public that promote education and awareness of government accountability. The AGA also offers the results of research and survey studies, checklists and toolkits in easy-to-use formats, and professional certification and training.
Reports and Surveys
The AGA online library provides free access to its research reports, survey series, and executive reports, available as Flash page flipbooks and downloadable PDFs. Research reports generally run 20 to 40 pages and examine current practices in auditing and accounting, financial management, and technology and other matters (https://www.agacgfm.org/Resources/Online-Library/Research-Reports.aspx). One report, “Bringing Financial Reporting into the Age of Open Data and Open Government – Three Approaches” (February 2016), identified three ways that users should be able to use information technology to access government financial information. These include drilling down to underlying detailed figures in audited financial statements, identifying and making accessible selected data that would be particularly useful to users, and listing an entity’s expenditures in an online platform that allows further manipulation. The body of the report covers suggestions for how to accomplish these transparency goals, and Appendix D includes sample data displays.
AGA’s survey series summaries are usually 10 to 20 pages in length with easy-to-read pictorial data summaries
(https://www.agacgfm.org/Resources/Online-Library/Survey-Series.aspx). One of the regular studies is the “Annual CIO Survey: Executive Collaboration for Strategic IT.” The January 2016 publication discussed the results of interviews conducted with senior government officials following the adoption of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) in December 2014. One of the major points emphasized by the respondents was that, although required to reduce costs and improve performance, communicating the cost savings of successful IT investments was difficult for chief information officers, and management challenges were often more important considerations than cost efficiencies.
Additional executive reports provide 10-to 20-page overviews of in-person summits and forums, as well as white papers on emerging issues at https://www.agacgfm.org/Resources/Online-Library/Survey-Series.aspx. The “Forum on Federal Financial Reporting,” held in June 2015, provided the opportunity for representatives of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB), and the Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Board (GASB), as well as federal chief financial officers and industry representatives, to discuss the current state of financial reporting. The report features recommendations that appear in the appendix, such as the need for more attention given to budget, cost, and performance data, which improvements in financial reporting do not fully reach. Other suggestions include developing a connection between Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) reporting and financial reporting standards and streamlining those reporting standards.
The News & Media section of the website focuses on information about specific AGA projects and related topics, offering a quick way for readers to locate items of particular interest (https://www.agacgfm.org/About/News-and-Media.aspx). An attention-getting Federal News Radio piece from February 25, 2016, “Improper Federal Payments Since 2004 Now Exceed $1 Trillion,” reported on the results of the Government Accountability Office’s annual audit of the federal government’s consolidated financial reports. Interviewed officials contended that the incredibly large number could be partially attributed to better data collection and analysis, as well as potentially proper but unsubstantiated expenditures. According to a spreadsheet of OMB-identified “high error programs” at https://paymentaccuracy.gov/high-priority-programs, the largest sources of improper payments are—not surprisingly—Medicare, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Free Online Tools
The AGA also serves as a third-party facilitator for the Intergovernmental Partnership, which is a group of high-ranking officials from government and higher education. The partnership takes on projects related to government issues in areas where it can provide value-added education, training, best practices, or common approaches. Partnership resources available on the AGA website include the free online tools and the DATA Act Information Hub (https://www.agacgfm.org/Intergovernmental/Free-Online-Products-for-Financial-Managers.aspx).
Two of the most useful free online products are a risk assessment monitoring tool and a fraud prevention toolkit. The risk assessment monitoring tool is an 18-page downloadable audit program that covers legal actions, monitoring activities, accounting systems, fiscal controls, and financial stability (https://www.agacgfm.org/getattachment/Intergovernmental/Free-Online-Products-for-Financial-Managers/riskassessment-monitoringtool.pdf.aspx).
The fraud prevention toolkit is an extensive collection of around 40 topics categorized under business process, program area, fraud type, and fraud awareness and mitigation (https://www.agacgfm.org/Fraud-Prevention-Toolkit/Home.aspx). Topics generally cover the identification of specific risks, including red flags signaling a potential occurrence, and best practices to avoid such events; for example, the accounts receivable and accounts payable materials include links to National Association for State Controllers (NASC) PDF control questionnaires for accounting systems, receivables, payables, and cash. The fraud awareness and mitigation area hosts training materials such as short videos on common high-risk scenarios, adaptable workshop PowerPoint files, and sample posters and web pages.
The DATA Act Information Hub is a web page that hosts partnership resources related to the DATA Act mentioned above (https://www.agacgfm.org/Intergovernmental/DATA-Act-Information-Hub.aspx). The DATA Act amends the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to require more disclosure of information on federal agency expenditures, establish government-wide standards for financial data, provide searchable spending information, and simplify reporting for entities receiving federal funds. The AGA Hub page includes access to the legislation, updates on activities, and educational materials, as well as links to several outside websites, such as the federal government’s DATA Act web page, the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), the Data Coalition, and the Federal Spending Transparency Collaboration Space.
In order to obtain the AGA’s Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation, candidates must demonstrate expertise in accounting, auditing, financial reporting, internal controls, and budgeting for federal, state, and local governments. In addition to agreeing to the AGA code of ethics and holding a bachelor’s degree, candidates must complete three examinations and two years of professional experience in government financial management. The AGA website provides access to the 39-page ethics handbook, information regarding validating education standards, and a listing of qualifying experience options (https://www.agacgfm.org/CGFM-Certification/About-CGFM.aspx).
The three CGFM examinations cover the governmental environment; governmental accounting, financial reporting, and budgeting; and governmental financial management and control (https://www.agacgfm.org/CGFM-Certification/Candidates/CGFM-Process/Examination-Requirements.aspx). The AGA website presents detailed outlines of exam content, a free downloadable set of 47 sample questions, and a for-purchase set of practice exams; candidates can also request a free trial of six practice questions. Members can also use the study guides for continuing education credit.
Susan B. Anders, PhD, CPA/CGMA is the Louis J. and Ramona Rodriguez Distinguished Professor of Accounting at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Tex. She is a member of The CPA Journal Editorial Board.