Federal Agencies Close Their Books in Record Time

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Almost every federal agency met a greatly accelerated financial reporting deadline this week by closing out their books 45 days after the end of the fiscal year.

"We are pleased that federal agencies are now able to issue financial and performance information in a time frame that is comparable to the private sector," OMB Controller Linda Springer said in a statement, Government Executive magazine reported.

OMB has been working toward the Nov. 15 deadline since early in President Bush's first term, when agencies were submitting their financial reports as late as five months after the fiscal year-end. The deadline, which was moved up incrementally from Feb. 27 since 2001, covers the 24 agencies covered by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act. The audited financial reports must be included as part of a Performance and Accountability Report.

Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, called the successful efforts of the 22 agencies a “major step forward” in financial and program management.

"Particularly in the case of performance information, it took some heroic efforts" to get the Performance and Accountability reports in on time, Breul said. Agencies collect financial data and provide interim reports over the course of the year. But performance data "doesn't come with the same regularity.”

Agencies now have performance and financial information in time for the budget process. "Getting information in a timely manner is paramount for decision-making," Breul said.

The Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments were the only agencies that missed the deadline, OMB said, but both plan to complete their financial reports by today.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie, said, “Our challenges were collecting data from a new department comprised of so many agencies and closing [the books] three months earlier than last year. But you know what? We're doing it."

Tabetha Mueller, a spokeswoman for the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency and Financial Management, said she hopes the quality of reporting doesn't suffer. "Our goal is timely financial information that's useful," she said. "So, yes, having the books closed early is a great way to make sure that happens. But at the same time, we want to learn from the audits."

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