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AGAs Annual Federal CFO Survey JuLy 2012

ChArtinG A Course throuGh stormy seAs:the Chief finAnCiAl offiCer in 2012

table of contentsExecutive summary 1About the survey 3Campaign to cut waste 4Measuring performance 8Strategy 11Structure 14Culture 16People 21Top challenges 25Conclusion 28

About the Association of Government Accountants The Association of Government Accountants (AGA), founded in 1950, supports the careers and professional development of public finance professionals working in federal, state and local governments, as well as the private sector and academia. The associa-tion has more than 15,000 members, including professionals in accounting, administration, auditing, budgeting, consulting, grants management, fraud investigation and information technology. AGA has been instrumental in developing accounting and auditing standards and in generating new concepts for the effective organization and administration of financial management functions. The association conducts independent research and analysis of all aspects of government financial management. These studies, including the 2012 AGA Chief Financial Officers Survey and more than 30 independent studies supported by the Corporate Partner Advisory Group, make AGA a leading advocate for improving the quality and effectiveness of public fiscal administration and pro-gram accountability. For more information, please visit www.agacgfm.org.

About Grant Thornton LLPGrant Thornton LLP is the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd. Grant Thornton International Ltd and its member firms are not a worldwide partnership, as each member firm is a separate and distinct legal entity. In the U.S., visit Grant Thornton LLP at www.GrantThornton.com.

Grant Thorntons Global Public Sector, based in Alexandria, Va., is a global management consulting business with the mission of providing responsive and innovative financial, performance management and systems solutions to governments and international organizations. We have provided comprehensive, cutting-edge solutions to the most challenging business issues facing govern-ment organizations. Our in-depth understanding of government operations and guiding legislation represents a distinct benefit to our clients. Many of our professionals have previous civilian and military public sector experience and understand the operating environ-ment of government. Visit Grant Thorntons Global Public Sector at www.grantthornton.com/publicsector.


Reducing costs is a lot of workMany CFOs view the Presidents Campaign to Cut Waste as fairly typical of a new Administration. Every President has certain things that he wants to accomplish, and the Campaign emphasizes making agencies accountable for the use of taxpayer dollars rather than reducing the deficit. The CFOs are concerned that the requirements of the Campaign sometimes divert resources that could have been better deployed elsewhere. Moreover, CFOs con-tend the Campaign did not strategically advance the mission of the agency and so offers little return on investment, but they nonetheless endeavored to implement the Campaign in a professional manner. The workforce saw it much the same way, but many lower level staff had much less involvement.

Performance management is how agencies achieve resultsThe CFOs are often the owners of the agen-cies performance management function. They have major roles helping agencies establish and operate performance management frameworks, including performance measures, performance plans and performance reporting. They assist the

The federal government and indeed every governmental unit in the United States has been surrounded by a storm of financial turmoil for some years now. The storms continue, and the years ahead may prove to be just as difficult at those they have just endured. It was in this environment that we surveyed federal Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and others engaged in governmental financial management throughout the country. Our survey finds these financial professionals engaged, hard at work and helping to guide their agencies through these perilous times.

agencys leadership in selecting Priority Goals required by the GPRA Modernization Act. They are the collectors and keepers of performance data, and they indicate that they are proficient at capturing these data. However, they are not always sure of data quality or the ultimate pur-pose and use of the data.

CFOs have closely aligned their offices with agency missions, but they want moreCFOs are not an easy group to please. While their offices are organized and strategically aligned with the agency to achieve results, the CFOs still want more, especially in the areas of analytics, program office knowledge and coop-eration, and effective financial and performance systems. They want better assessment of risk to improve results, but they know many in the workforce are not yet aware of the uses and ben-efits of risk management.

CFOs and the workforce have different views of leadership and trustMost CFOs believe that they have the right people in the right roles, including manage-ment positions, but that is not as common a belief among those in the workforce. Everyone generally agrees trust and teamwork are critical components of organizational success, but there are some differences of opinions here as well. The fiscal storms hitting agencies have reduced budgets, frozen pay and cut staffing, leaving the CFOs to pick up the pieces and find ways to continue to accomplish essential functions.

The CFO culture is strong and supportiveThe CFOs believe their culture is com-mitted, talented, results-focused and

executive summary


community-building, and they believe it has a very positive effect on achieving agency results. The CFOs have more confidence than the workforce that leaders are effective at communi-cating and building culture. The CFOs also have a stronger belief that their culture is ready to weather the continuing fiscal storms.

People are the key to successCFOs believe they have good people; they want to keep them and they want even more financial professionals so they can be even more effective. They believe their people have the right mix of technical skills and attitude to deal with the challenges they expect over the next two years. They indicate the key to leadership is inspiring and motivating the workforce to look beyond external distractions and keep their compasses aimed at mission success.

Storms will continueCFOs recognize that difficulties from external forces (e.g., the economy, the deficit and debt, and Congress) will continue, and they have plans and contingencies to deal with them. They want to continue their focus on achieving agency results for their customers and stakeholders. The

workforce is more concerned about internal issues such as leadership and management, and they are expecting the CFOs to provide guidance to help them manage through the tough times ahead.

CFOs have their work cut out for themThe financial storms affecting agencies have already created problems, and there is no relief in sight. CFOs must continue to chart a course for their workforce so that together they can help their agencies achieve the program results expected by the American people.

Conclusion There is a storm out there. It is not a storm on the horizon; it is already here. It is driven by congressional budget cuts, the Campaign to Cut Waste, the requirements of GPRAMA and the continued poor performance of U.S. and global economies. It is a vicious cyclone, as budget cuts drive staff cuts, which impact performance.

While every government executive bears some responsibility for the governments response, CFOs have a leading role because they are functionally responsible for budgeting and performance management. Continuing budget cuts, pay freezes, late appropriations, the specter of sequester, trillion-dollar deficits and public denigration of civil servants by the media and their elected representatives make the CFOs job a difficult one. They know this.

Throughout this survey, however, we see CFOs successful in spite of all that is thrown their way. Whether they are political appointees or career civil servants, CFOs are working with their staffs to get the job done. Yes, it is tough, but according to one CFO, quoting from The Godfather Part II, This is the life we chose.


About the surveyfinancial community do not attribute thoughts and quotations to individual financial executives who were interviewed, and they do not identify online respondents.

Survey methodology With AGA guidance, Grant Thornton devel-oped online and in-person survey instruments that included closed and open-ended questions. We conducted nonrandom in-person interviews with 115 U.S. federal financial leaders and senior leaders of oversight groups such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Sixty of these interviewees had job titles of CFO or Deputy CFO; others were direct reports or other finan-cial executives. We did nonrandom online inter-views with 521 AGA members. In this online version, 204 respondents indicated that they worked for the federal government, and their input is reflected in this report. We augmented the federal in-person surveys with three breakfast meetings of CFOs and deputy CFOs where the participants discussed survey topics as a group.

Copies of the in-person and online question-naires can be found at www.grantthornton.com/publicsector.

Our goal for the survey is to identify emerging issues in financial management and to provide a vehicle that practitioners can use to share their views and experiences with colleagues and policy makers. This is one way AGA demonstrates its leadership in governmental financial manage-ment issues. For this 2012 federal survey report, our focus is on the federal Campaign to Cut Waste, measuring performance and an assess-ment of CFO organizations using recognized elements of high-performing organizations: strategy, structure, culture and people.

Anonymity To preserve anonymity and encourage respon-dents to speak freely, the annual surveys of the

The Association of Government Accountants (AGA), in partnership with Grant Thornton LLP, has sponsored an annual government Chief Financial Officer (CFO) survey since 1996. We now produce two reports for the survey. This report focuses on the federal government. A second report in August 2012 will look at state and local issues in more depth, including timely financial reporting and state systems and the cloud.


The Campaign to Cut Waste is a term applied to a variety of activities driven by Presidential Executive Orders (EOs) and supplemental OMB guidance. The first salvo in the Campaign was a Presidential memorandum, Accountable Government Initiative, dated September 14, 2010. This was accompanied by an OMB memorandum providing more detailed guidance and expanding on the Presidents themes. On June 13, 2011, the President issued EO 13576, Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government. A number of other documents followed over the next 12 months, as shown in Figure 1. Whether the subject was travel, administrative costs or contractor costs, the consistent ongoing direction and guidance was basically to reduce costs while continuing to produce program results.

While deficit reduction has been a major issue influencing federal funding for some time, the Campaign was ultimately about agencies being accountable for the use of taxpayer dollars. The Campaign had reduction targets for various categories of spending, such as travel and other administrative costs, but overall agency funding levels were set by Congress. As a result, agen-cies were able to reprogram various savings into direct program operations.

RolesBecause of the pervasive nature of the Campaign over the last year, the survey began with some questions for the in-person interviewees about how CFOs were responding to the guidance. Figure 2 shows the roles that Offices of the CFO (OCFO) were taking on to implement the Campaign.

Over half the respondents selected each of the top three choices, making it clear that CFOs used a variety of approaches for implementation. This is not surprising because the Campaign included so many diverse aspects related to reducing costs.

A number of survey respondents made the point that the Campaign was simply a continuation of their ongoing efforts to deal with the smaller

Campaign to Cut Waste

Date Document Title14-Sep-10 Presidential

MemorandumAccountable Government Initiative

14-Sep-10 OMB Memo The Accountable Government Initiative - an Update on Our Performance Management Agenda

13-Jun-11 Executive Order Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government

28-Jun-11 OMB Memo Campaign to Cut Waste

7-Jul-11 White House Forum

Accountability in Federal Contracting

20-Jul-11 White House Press Release

Data Center Consolidation Initiative

17-Aug-11 OMB Memo Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government

21-Sep-11 OMB Memo Eliminating Excess Conference Spending and Promoting Efficiency in Government

9-Nov-11 Executive Order Promoting Efficient Spending

11-May-12 OMB Memo Promoting Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations

Figure 1: Campaign to Cut Waste Documents


budgets given to them by Congress. They noted that the CFOs responsibilities have always included rooting out waste and making agency operations more efficient and effective. In this respect, the Campaign was merely the latest effort by the President and OMB to direct agen-cies attention to specific issues. One respondent said, We asked the employees for cost-cutting ideas and got 15,000 of them.

The list of expenses that the CFOs examined included many of the predictable (or directed) areas: travel, training, administrative expenses, improper payments and promotional items. Then there were some items that were not as common: shared services, phone lines, enter-prise licenses, relocation expenses, personal printers, motor pools, rent, late payment interest and agency publications. Finally, there were a small number of items that only a few respon-dents mentioned: employee parking, two-sided

OCFO RolesPercent

respondingReducing and identifying alternatives to travel, consultants and administrative expenses


Targeting wasteful practices 53%

Active participation in the planning called for in the EO "Promoting Efficient Spending"


Other 14%

My OCFO has no special role in implementation


Don't know/Not applicable 2%

Figure 2: What is your OCFOs role in implementing the Campaign to Cut Waste in your agency? (check all that apply)


printing, color vs. black-and-white printing, nighttime guard service, cash awards, replacing types of light bulbs and replacing higher-graded employees with lower-graded employees. One respondent said, Were creating a constant cul-ture of spending restraint.

ProgressWe asked CFOs what had been their progress in implementing the Campaign, and Figure 3 shows their responses.

Considering that the Campaign has been ongoing since September 2010 (officially since June 2011), these responses are a little surprising, especially with 19% having just started and another 7% only at the planning stage or not started. Part of this may be explained by the fact that the Campaign is an ongoing, evolving exercise rather than a one-shot drill. The latest Executive Order was dated November 2011, and the last relevant OMB memorandum was in May 2012. Especially for those requirements that need to be satisfied by quarterly reports, progress may be a relative term.

On the other hand, a number of interviewees noted that they have been busy with these activities since Congress began reducing their appropriations. Their responses here may relate to the various reports to OMB required by the Campaign, as opposed to the actual work of fig-uring out how to reduce expenses in the assigned categories. One respondent said, We are doing a lot more than the Campaign asks of us.

In the online version of the survey, where respondents are primarily non-Washington, DC, employees, we asked a question about whether their agencies had recently conducted campaigns to identify inefficiencies and waste. Figure 4 shows the results. It is a little surprising that

Progress choicesPercent

respondingHave been achieving good results from working on the Campaign


Have just started implementing or supporting the Campaign


Have been moving along with the Campaign but little to report yet


Other 11%

Have made plans for starting 4%

Have not yet started or planned anything


Figure 3: What has been your OCFOs progress in your entitys Campaign to Cut Waste?

One CFO noted that she preferred focusing on good management vs. some OMB campaign because good

management is always a priority but campaigns come and go.


almost one-third of online respondents con-ducted no such campaign, which would indicate that the Campaign to Cut Waste may have been more of a headquarters, Washington, DC, event than a total agency effort.

Execution and expansionNext we asked the CFOs what they had done to implement the Campaign within their own financial functions. As expected, the CFOs took their share of the various category reductionstravel, other administrative expenses, hiring freezesbut there is often little else in the CFOs budgets except labor costs and administrative costs. One CFO noted that they tried to set an example in the Office of the CFO (OCFO) for the rest of the agency to follow.

The final question in this section dealt with ways the CFOs could expand the Campaign

Figure 4: Has your office recently conducted campaigns designed to identify inefficiencies and waste?



throughout their agencies. In most cases, the CFO was the agency lead in implementing the Campaign, including drafting specific guidance to implement OMB direction in the agency and establishing processes for data capture and reporting. One respondent said, The OCFO does not have the ability to manage activities in the program offices. We set targets and monitor. One CFO noted that she preferred focusing on good management vs. some OMB campaign because good management is always a priority but campaigns come and go. There clearly were many meetings associated with the Campaign over the last year. One CFO noted, Weve spent more on meetings about the Campaign to Cut Waste than weve actually saved from cutting waste.


Since the CFO Act of 1990 and the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993, CFOs have been heavily involved in performance management. The GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA) of 2010 created new and expanded requirements for those responsible for agency performance management. In addition, many of the requirements of the Campaign to Cut Waste also included provisions related to improving effectiveness and program results.

Organization and rolesGPRA did not specifically assign any duties to CFOs, nor has OMB dictated which offices are to be responsible for performance management within agencies. As a result, there is little consis-tency in how agencies have organized to manage performance, though it appears that many agen-cies include performance management in the CFOs responsibilities.

To help determine how the CFOs were orga-nized for these responsibilities, we asked respondents to describe their OCFOs role in performance management. The results cover the spectrum, although most assigned major respon-sibilities to the OCFO. Quite a few respondents had responses similar to those who said, The CFO is the owner and champion of performance management, and OCFO is in charge of performance management, and finally Were all over it.

However, there were other arrangements. Some respondents explained that the OCFO played more of a supporting role. Others mentioned that performance management was in the policy office, the Deputy Secretarys office, the Secretarys office, or another office not under the CFO. Finally, one stated that the CFO has not been heavily involved in setting strategic goals, and another admitted that he was not familiar with GPRA Modernization.

Priority goalsGPRAMA did not assign any responsibilities to the CFO, but it did assign responsibilities to Performance Improvement Officers (PIOs), a position codified in the new law. As we discov-ered in our 2011 survey of federal PIOs, quite a few of the PIOs were actually the CFO, the budget officer or some other executive reporting

measuring performance


to the CFO. One of the key new requirements in GPRAMA was the development and use of agency priority goals. These goals were selected by the agency head from among the performance goals of the agency and reflected the agencys highest priorities. The survey asked how much the OCFO participated in helping to set priority goals, and Figure 5 shows the results.

The response rates for both the in-person and online respondents are remarkably similar. Seventy-one percent of in-person respondents and 67% of online respondents participated half the time or more in helping to set priority goals.

We saw from the responses that CFOs were often responsible for agency performance management programs. However, the nature of agency priority goals means that they would rarely be applicable

to CFOs themselves. In-person respondents also said that the CFOs own the process of setting priority goals. CFOs facilitated the conversa-tion, but they did not actually establish the goals. Program managers did that. One respon-dent indicated that her office ran the program; they could tell the program offices, no, and they decided what were good priority goals. However, it was the program offices responsi-bility to identify the priority goals.

DataPerformance management is data-intensive, so the survey asked how satisfied respondents were with their current capabilities for capturing data relevant for performance management. Figure 6 shows the results. Much as we found with setting priority goals, the results from the in-person

Figure 5: How much does your OCFO participate in helping to set priority goals as mandated in the GPRA Modernization Act?

Figure 6: How satisfied are you with your OCFOs current capabilities for capturing relevant data for performance management?

In Person

Online 15%

21% 25%






Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfied Does not applyNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied

2% 4%

In Person

Online 19%6%

21% 17%8%



33% 24% 8%

Never Seldom Usually Always Does not applyAbout half the time

2% 5%

5% 3%


A number of respondents identified systems problems as

the paramount issue in data collection. They lacked systems

to capture quality data routinely. One noted, We have the

authority to collect the data but we lack the tools.

respondents and online respondents were very similar, with 48% of in-person respondents indi-cating that they were satisfied or very satisfied and 45% of online respondents indicating these values. The number of respondents selecting neither satisfied nor dissatisfied is troubling. If this middle choice is viewed as a surrogate for I dont know/I dont care, it would appear that a quarter of the in-person respondents and a third

of the online respondents do not really know (or perhaps care about) their capabilities for cap-turing performance management data.

A number of in-person respondents clarified the difference between capturing and using data. One respondent noted that We are good at capturing data, but not so good at using it.

Another noted that they did a good job of cap-turing performance information but not a good job of integrating it with financial information to produce actionable information for decision makers. Another said, We are capturing a lot of data, but we dont know if its the right data. Another said, I have more data than anyone in the agency, but I am not satisfied with what we do with it.

A number of respondents identified systems problems as the paramount issue in data collec-tion. They lacked systems to capture quality data routinely. One noted, We have the authority to collect the data but we lack the tools.

Another issue mentioned by a number of respon-dents was the need for cost accounting or cost management data to supplement the perfor-mance data. If you are going to link performance and financial information, there has to be some way to relate the data, something that cost man-agement can do for agencies. As one respondent noted, It is hard to track spending against stra-tegic goals. Another respondent said, Everyone wants to distill performance into a scorecard, but its far more complex than that.


Much of this years survey was built around the specific, well-recognized drivers of high-performing organizations: strategy, structure, culture and people. The surveys strategy questions related to mission, budget, monitoring and risk.

was to provide actionable information for deci-sion makers. One respondent noted, We have no basic analytical tools. As a result, manage-ment often makes across-the-board decisions rather than analytic-based decisions. Another respondent said, I want to show what value were getting per dollar, the difference between receiving $2 billion and $2.25 billion.

Another common theme related to program offices and the ability of the OCFO to sup-port program activities. Some of this discussion related to the lack of program knowledge in the OCFO staff, and some related to the need to work cooperatively. One respondent noted, I want the program office to come to me for help with their problems on the front end, rather than making mistakes and then coming to me to help clean up the mess on the back end.

The final common theme was about systems, especially the need for better financial and per-formance systems. Some respondents indicated

Getting resultsWe began consideration of strategy by asking what results the respondents wanted that they were not getting. This was an open-ended ques-tion rather than a scale or multiple choices, so the responses covered a lot of material. The most common in-person responses centered on analytics, supporting the program offices and systems.

A number of respondents identified a lack of analytic ability in their staffs. They wanted better analysis, a more analytical and proac-tive approach and greater analytic capability to inform decisions. The need for more analytics



that they lacked the required automated tools or were not making good use of the tools they had to produce quality, timely data needed by deci-sion makers.

The online respondents had slightly different responses, probably reflecting the fact that they were typically in field operations rather than headquarters. About 20% of these respondents indicated that results they were not getting were incrementally different from those desired. Their responses often included words like better, greater, increased and improved. The single most common word in their responses was more. They indicated that they were achieving some marginal level of results, but not the level they really wanted.

While one or two in-person respondents indi-cated that they were generally satisfied with the results they were getting, about 12% of the online respondents had no complaints. More than one respondent specifically noted, Were getting the results we want.

Most of the other responses from the online respondents indicated their desire for doing the job correctly and effectively. One respondent said, Planning should drive budget and execu-tion, and yet it does not.

AlignmentWe asked respondents how aligned they were in assisting their agencies in achieving mission objectives. For in-person respondents, this was an open-ended question, and for online respondents, it was a scale with an opportunity for comments.

In-person respondents indicated that they were not only aligned but also very aligned, perfectly aligned and absolutely hand-in-hand aligned. Their answers often went on to explain that because the OCFO was responsible for the budget and performance management functions, the OCFO had to be in alignment with the agency if the budget and performance plans were accurately and effectively supporting the agency strategic plan.

Over 73% of online respondents said their offices were aligned, and only 9% said they were not aligned. Their supporting narratives were not nearly as effusive as the in-person respondents about the degree of alignment, perhaps because they had already indicated a high degree of align-ment on the scale.

Risk and performanceBecause the question of risk management is receiving increasing attention as agencies struggle to achieve results, we asked how satisfied

Figure 7: How satisfied are you with the integration of risk management and performance improvement in your agency?

In Person

Online 14%

20% 37%






Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfied Does not applyNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied






respondents were with the integration of risk management and performance improvement in their agencies. Figure 7 shows their responses.

The scores from the in-person and online respon-dents are very similar, with in-person respondents being more dissatisfied and online respondents having more does not apply responses.

More revealing is that more than a third of each group of respondents chose neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. If this middle choice is a surrogate for I dont know/I dont care, it would appear that more than one-third of both groups do not really know (or perhaps care about) the integration of risk management with performance improvement. Supporting this assumption, the narrative com-ments from the in-person respondents revealed a significant lack of knowledge about what risk management was and how it was related to perfor-mance management or performance improvement. One respondent was quite clear, I dont know what risk management means.

Even though only 18% of online respondents were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, their narrative comments were overwhelmingly nega-tive. Much like the in-person respondents, many did not understand the terminology or believe there was any integration in their agencies. One respondent said, There is almost no under-standing of risk management at my agency.

In-person respondents had a final question about some ways that their agencies could use risk management information to contribute to performance improvement. Some respondents identified activities where risk management information could be useful, including process/control documentation, grants management,

improper payments, revenue estimation, internal controls and technology investments. Others dealt with structural issues such as the need to do formal enterprise risk management, the need for better risk management information and the lack of a structure to manage risk formally at the agency level. One respondent said, We dont have a formal process to manage risk, so employees perform risk management intuitively every day as part of their jobs.

We dont have a formal process to manage risk, so

employees perform risk management intuitively every

day as part of their jobs.


Structure is that driver of high-performing organizations that values leadership, the organization chart, trust and teamwork. It deals with issues of whether your organization has a solid foundation and operates in a way that fosters success.

that the problem was not the right people, but rather the right number of people. Budget cuts and hiring freezes were making it difficult to maintain adequate staffing levels. Finally, a few respondents specifically mentioned the shortage of qualified accountants.

Figure 8 shows that 46% of online respondents were satisfied or very satisfied, but those who provided narrative comments were clearly among the 54% in the other categories. A clear majority of the narrative responses were negative in nature, and 64% of all online responses were made by respondents who were very unhappy with their own or their agencies staffing and staffing practices. Some of these were straightfor-ward negatives, such as Our managers do not have governmental experience and do not under-stand accounting, but many of the responses were along the lines of:

Leadership is unprofessional and totally inept.

My office has an ingrained tradition of favor-itism in hiring, tasking and promotions.

Our staff is almost completely misaligned for the task.

The only other general online responses were some complaints about the high rate of turnover, while

Roles and peopleThe first question under structure asked whether respondents were satisfied that their offices had the right people in the right role, including in management positions. This dealt with issues of whether the organization had defined the right roles, created the right positions and staffed those positions with the right people. While many of our questions in earlier sections had similar response rates from in-person and online respondents, this question evoked a clear differ-ence. Figure 8 shows the responses.

In-person respondents were clearly satisfied, with 65% choosing satisfied or very satisfied and only 17% choosing dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Their narrative comments were mostly positive, with a few explaining that they had the right roles but not necessarily the right people, and others explaining that some of the roles were filled with the right people and some were not. A number of respondents mentioned


Figure 8: How satisfied are you that your office has the right people in the right roles, including in management positions?

In Person












Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfied Does not applyNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied




others complained that some people stayed in the job too long, making it difficult to bring about organizational change or for others to advance.

Trust and teamworkWe asked respondents to assess the level of trust and teamwork in their agency, and Figure 9 shows the results.

Both in-person and online respondents had similar levels of responses, but online respon-dents were somewhat more negative. Another troublesome issue here is that about one-quarter of each group selected neutral, the middle choice that avoided an opinion. Most in-person respondent comments were mixed, which might account for the high level of neutral selections. One respondent said, Trust is high at the man-ager level but not so much at the senior levels. Another respondent said, Trust is definitely there, but teamwork is much more difficult.

As opposed to the mixed in-person comments, most online comments were negative, though not as irritated as the comments above about the right people in the right roles. There were com-ments such as, Leadership does not share, and team members are out for themselves. Another respondent said, Not everyone feels that they are being treated fairly.

The survey had a final question in this section only for in-person respondents: In what ways

does trust or lack of trust affect your organiza-tional performance right now? We received many interesting perspectives, some about how trust helps and some about how a lack of trust hin-ders. On the positive side, respondents said that trust enhanced collaboration, helped you find out about issues before they became problems, encouraged people not to be afraid to give bad news, improved information sharing and contrib-uted to saving time and increasing efficiency. On the negative side, respondents said that a lack of trust led to duplication of effort, low morale, diffi-culty in making changes, arbitrary restrictions and mandates, an over-controlling atmosphere and less information sharing. The CFOs clearly saw the need for and benefits of trust in the organization.

This section is a tale of two cities. The in-person respondents generally believed they had the right people in the right roles, and they see a high degree of trust and teamwork in their own orga-nizations, if not throughout their agencies. They understood the importance of good people, trust and teamwork to accomplish organizational results. On the other hand, the online respon-dents were much more negative, with many being very irritated. They were also less positive about trust and teamwork in their organiza-tions. Since most of the online respondents are probably in the chain of command under the in-person respondents, there is some important work ahead for CFOs and others.

Figure 9: Assess the level of trust and teamwork in your agency.

In Person

Online 13%6%



46% 15%

38% 16%

Very low Low High Very highNeutral

2% 14%


Culture is that driver of high-performing organizations that envisions the level of engagement, alignment and energy in the organization as vital elements for success. A good culture can play a significant role in achieving strategic results.

In discussing commitment, respondents described their culture with words like dedicated, committed, engaged, passionate and intense. One respondent said, We are hard-working, passionate individuals who strive to do whats right. Another said, We talk the talk and walk the walk.

The comments about talent included words like smart, expert, specialized and inspiring excellence. One respondent said, Our culture is sharing and transparent, and we are experts at what we do. Another said, The office is forward-looking, with a tendency to take on new challenges and initiatives.

The comments about results used words like col-laborative, aligned with the mission, professional and making a difference. One respondent said, My guys have a clear notion of what they need to do. Another said, We are a can-do organization that wants to make a difference at the end of the day.


Office cultureOur first question in this section was an open-ended question that asked respondents how they would describe the culture of their office, and was it different from that of their agency. In-person respondents were overwhelming posi-tive in describing the culture of their offices. Their comments fell into four general areas: commitment, talent, results and community. A number of respondents mentioned how their offices typically fared very well in various employee surveys.


Comments about community included words like trusting, protective, cohesive, working closely together and family. One respondent said, We have a small-town community culture that supports fellowship and relationships with our colleagues. A couple of respondents mentioned family, including one who said, Our culture is like a family that is trusting, open and inspiring excellence.

Most respondents did not deal with the second part of the question that asked whether the office culture was different from the agency culture. However, most who did mention it indicated that it was different, including 32% of the in-person responses.

The online respondents had more balance between positive and negative comments about their cultures. There were some like the respon-dent who said, We know the mission and we are enthused to do a good job; that in itself is reward enough. But we also had comments like, The fact that we now have a union says all that needs to be said about our culture.

As with the in-person respondents, few online respondents addressed the question of whether their office culture was different from their agency culture. Of those who did address it, most said that it was different, including 22% of the online respondents.

Some online respondents mentioned the unique problems created by telework and virtual employment. They noted the difficulty of fully comprehending and participating in the office culture when most of your contacts with col-leagues were via email and the telephone.

We asked in-person respondents about the effect of the OCFO culture on the performance of the OCFO. Much like their comments about their office culture, the comments of most indicated that their culture positively influenced performance. Some indicated that in the current fiscal environ-ment where they are often understaffed and over-worked, a positive culture brings the office together as a team to get the job done on time with quality products. One respondent said, We have a perfor-mance culture, so employees deliver good work and the office delivers good products.

Staff alignmentOur next question was based on the assumption that, in an ideal world, a staff that is aligned has people who are focused, pull in the same direc-tion, and understand core values. The question was, How satisfied are you with the level of staff alignment in your OCFO (office)? and Figure 10 shows the results.

There are similarities between the in-person and online respondents in the categories very

Figure 10: How satisfied are you with the level of staff alignment in your OCFO (office)?

In Person












Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfiedNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied


dissatisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and satisfied. However, more online respon-dents were dissatisfied, and more in-person respondents were very satisfied. Once again, the impact of 20% of each group selecting the middle category is not easy to define.

The in-person respondents had many fewer com-ments for this question than other questions, and they were only slightly favoring a positive view. Perhaps they had already said their piece in the right persons in the right roles question earlier in the strategy section. There were comments like We are all working for the same goal and Staff have a holistic understanding of how things work. But there were also comments like There is a lack of interaction/cohesion/integration between the various offices within the OCFO and People dont seem to know what my strategic vision is and what goals we are pursuing.

The online respondents also had many fewer comments, but they were slightly favoring a negative view. However, their negativity was not nearly as forceful as what they demonstrated in the right persons in the right role question earlier. One respondent echoed a common tone when he said, Too many people are about me and not the organization or customers. Another said, The OCFO has three directorates, none of which trust each other nor have the same objec-tives. There were a number of comments about age and experience differences like, The genera-tional diversity and corresponding differences in work ethic are problems and Many old hands who do not wish to embrace technology need to retire or leave.

Communicating and building cultureThe next question asked how effective senior managers and executives were at communicating and building culture in the OCFO or office. Figure 11 shows the results.

There appears to be a clear difference here, with the in-person respondents more satisfied and the online respondents less satisfied. Some of this might be accounted for by the fact that many of the in-person respondents are the senior

One respondent echoed a common tone when he said, Too many people are about me and not the organization or customers. Another said, The OCFO has three directorates,

none of which trust each other nor have the same objectives.

Figure 11: How effective are senior managers and executives at communicating and building culture in your OCFO (office)?

In Person


3% 10%








Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfiedNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied


Figure 12: How satisfied are you that the culture of your OCFO (office) is appropriate for meeting the challenges of the next two years? What about the culture of your agency?

O n L I n E

I n P E R S O n

My office

My agency










My agency










Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfiedNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied

managers and executives about whom the ques-tion asked. In fact, one respondent questioned her objectivity because she was senior management.

Many comments by in-person respondents were both positive and negative. One respondent said, Senior-level people are doing very well; mid-level people need to improve. Another said, Some senior managers are great, while others are not as effective. There tended to be recognition that communicating and building culture was manage-ments job, even when it was not getting done. One respondent said, There has been so much putting out fires and jumping from one priority to the next that I havent had time to do the culture building that I would like.

The online respondents comments tended to be negative; a number of them discussed the many changes that were going on in their offices and agencies and how that negatively affected culture building. One respondent said, Techies and accountants are not known for their people skills. Another noted that the problem was not

always management: Though the communica-tions are clear, established employees are often resistant to change and do not comply.

Meeting challengesThe final question in this section dealt with the ability of the office culture to meet the challenges of the next two years. The question also asked about the likely ability of the agency culture to meet the challenges. Figure 12 shows the results.

The in-person respondents were clearly ready, with 79% indicating satisfied or very satis-fied. They were apparently not so satisfied with the ability of their agencies to meet the challenges, with 58% indicating some degree of satisfaction and 42% indicating something else. While 62% of online respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the ability of their culture to meet the coming challenges, 54% were less than satisfied that their agencies were ready. Perhaps reflecting the fact that many online respondents are in field operations, more than one-third of them had no opinion about


the readiness of their agency. Even among the in-person respondents, more than a quarter had similar, no-opinion responses.

The in-person comments were generally positive, supporting the high level of satisfaction they had indicated, but they recognized continuing problems. One respondent said, Its difficult to tell people to do more work with less money and no pay raises. Another said, Im concerned about burnout; we need to move from trying to do more with less to reducing operations to a more sustainable level.

The online comments were generally negative, though one respondent noted, I previously worked in private industry for 20 years, and none of those business cultures was nearly as good as the culture we have here. However, most responses were along the lines of the one from a respondent who said, I have just left the office Im rating on this survey, and I am professionally and personally relieved. And finally, another respondent expressed his frustra-tion with the whole financial situation and said, Does management know we get our wastebas-kets emptied only three times a week? How is that going to balance the federal budget?

People are the organizational driver that assesses the selection, development and retention of the workforce.

Technical skillsThe first question in the section asked whether the respondents offices had the right mix of technical skills to meet the financial challenges of the next two years. Figure 13 shows the results.

The responses from both groups of respondents are very similar, with the online respondents noticeably higher in the very satisfied category. In-person comments noted a number of catego-ries where OCFOs had technical skills shortfalls, including analytics (overwhelmingly noted), systems analysis, technology and budget. The online comments primarily noted skill shortfalls in accounting and auditing. Both groups men-tioned a lack of understanding of Excel by some of their older staff, and both mentioned the need for problem solvers and creative thinking.

The in-person respondents noted that you first needed skills assessments to identify your problems. Then, even when you knew your skill shortfalls, you did not always have the ability to address the problem because of turnover, staffing cuts and budget cuts. And even when you could


Figure 13: How satisfied are you that your OCFO/office has the right mix of technical skills to meet the financial challenges of the next two years?

In Person


4% 17%








Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfiedNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied


hire, it was very difficult to find qualified people who wanted to work in government.

AttitudeTechnical skills were very important for success, but the workforces attitude also played a critical role in achieving success. CFOs did not get to decide whether the workforce would get pay raises, but they were still responsible for motivating them. While the previous question addressed the right


Many comments noted the important role that recognition plays in motivation. This might include simply highlighting staff

accomplishments and cost-saving ideas at the all-hands meeting or having social functions. Respondents noted that recognition

does not have to be costly to be effective.

still willing to work hard. The negative com-ments from the online respondents included one who said, Some people, including myself, are giving up.

Linking to agency objectivesThe next question asked whether the respon-dents staffs understood and linked the agencys objectives to their own work. Eighty-nine percent of in-person comments were over-whelmingly positive. One respondent said, Yes, absolutely! and another said, Yes, the staff sees and understands the connection. Sixty-one percent of online comments were positive, not as overwhelming as the in-person comments.

For the in-person respondents, the survey had a follow-up question about how they motivated their staffs to make the link between agency objectives and their own work. Respondents provided a lot of information, and most of it focused on four points: communications, recognition, experiencing mission work and performance plans. Many of the in-person respondents emphasized the role of communica-tions in motivating their staffs to make the linkage. One respondent said, Leadership communicates frequently and holds regular meetings. Communications also included having managers provide feedback to employees about their performance.

mix of technical skills, the next question addressed whether the respondents offices had the right atti-tude to meet the challenges of the next two years. Figure 14 shows the results.

While these scores might look similar at first glance, the in-person respondents held a 13 per-centage point advantage in satisfied and very satisfied scores, while the online respondents had a 13 percentage point advantage in dissatisfied and very dissatisfied scores. In addition, 74% of the in-person comments were positive, while 60% of the online comments were negative. In fact, only about 6% of the online respondents chose to make any comment, leaving us to wonder whether the 65% who indicated they were satis-fied or very satisfied were the ones who did not comment. Thirty-seven percent of in-person respondents chose to make a comment.

The positive comments from the in-person respondents included one who said, People are

Figure 14: How satisfied are you that your OCFO/office has the right attitude to meet the financial challenges of the next two years?

In Person





19% 57%

11% 47%20%



Very dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very satisfiedNeither satisfied nor dissatisfied


Once the agency planning process was complete, many CFOs were ensuring that, where appropriate, their staffs had complementary items in their per-sonal performance plans. One respondent noted, We show them the ultimate goal of the agency and then explain how it relates to their job.

Work environmentWe next asked in-person respondents how they managed performance and created a work envi-ronment within the OCFO that inspired and enabled their staffs to do their best. Over 80% of respondents chose to provide comments to this question, and their comments could form a good work plan for anyone who wanted to motivate teams, including personal characteristics, positive behaviors, environment and prohibitions.

First, there were personal characteristics that respondents thought were necessary, including being open and listening, saying thank you, and

Many comments noted the important role that recognition plays in motivation. This might include simply highlighting staff accomplishments and cost-saving ideas at the all-hands meeting or having social functions. Respondents noted that recogni-tion does not have to be costly to be effective.

A number of respondents indicated that they linked agency objectives to their offices work by having their staff visit mission locations, whether or not they needed to take a trip or go on a detail to a program office. One respondent said, I want the staff to plan a trip to see the impact of their work. Another said, We brought an agent to the all-hands meeting and had him demon-strate how the new equipment, that we had justi-fied in the budget, would save lives.

The final point noted by many respondents was ensuring that employee performance plans had a clear link to agency strategic goals and objectives.


There was a lot of discussion of the skills that CFOs needed and whether current CFOs had them. Many thought CFOs basically needed the same skills that every executive needed. Others discussed being technology savvy, analytic, understanding policy analysis, having experience in government budgeting and accounting and understanding the programs of the agency. One said, The CFO needs to be a value driver for change.

A number of respondents believe the private sector CFO model does not fit the needs of gov-ernment. One respondent noted, Government CFOs are about compliance; private sector CFOs manage money. Other respondents men-tioned that the government compensation level would probably keep many good people from accepting government CFO jobs.

Quite a few respondents discussed political vs. career CFOs. Some were concerned that political CFOs changed when administrations changed, just when the need for leadership would be the greatest. Others noted that the vetting and confirmation processes kept good people away. A number of respondents were convinced that CFOs needed practical federal government experience if they were going to be effective. They noted that government experience takes years to obtain. However, one respondent noted that political CFOs had a seat at the table with agency political leadership, something the career CFOs did not enjoy.

treating others as you would want to be treated. Respondents then identified some important positive behaviors, including lead by example, communicate often, protect your staff, delegate, provide the big picture, set goals and objectives and be creative with recognition.

Respondents next identified the type of environ-ment that they thought would inspire the staff to do their best, including an environment that was

supportive and respectful of staff, fostered staff contributions, and created a family atmosphere of trust and teamwork. Finally, respondents included a few prohibitions: Dont micro-manage and No BS. One respondent summed up taking care of your people with Reward whenever you can; discipline when you have to.

CFO skillsThe final in-person question in this section asked whether the government was attracting the right personalities and skill sets to CFO positions. About 90% of the respondents chose to com-ment on this question.

A number of respondents believe the private sector CFO model does not fit the needs of government. One respondent noted,

Government CFOs are about compliance; private sector CFOs manage money.


top Challenges As is usual with our surveys, our last questions focused on the top challenges that survey respondents faced. We asked them what their top three challenges were and how they would focus their limited resources to address them in the short term.

environment over the past few years. However, they did have different points of view. Some were trying to figure out how to get more funding, while others were trying to determine how to live with less. Some just said resources or budget. A number of respondents had some variation on the expres-sion, do more with less, but one respondent said, We have to get away from the phrase, do more with less; we need to choose.

Running a close second behind budget was personnel, with more than half of all respondents also including this among their three challenges. This category included many associated phrases, including recruiting, retaining, succession plan-ning, people, skills, retirement, workforce and turnover. A lot of the personnel challenge was driven by budget, such as not having sufficient funds to hire staff or having hiring freezes because of funding shortfalls. Some was also the result of the expected retirement tsunami as

In personThe in-person respondents had a very wide range of challenges. Some were one-off responses like green management, IT security, and contractor oversight, but most of the responses related to budget, personnel, systems, providing service, training and audits.

The most often mentioned challenge was the budget, including increasing requirements, finding more cost savings and dealing with continuing reductions. Over half of all respondents included budget as one of their three challenges, which was not a surprise considering the federal financial


Baby Boomers, who make up a large portion of government personnel, hit retirement age. And finally, some was the result of problems with hiring and retaining highly skilled people who might be attracted instead by the compensation and working conditions in the private sector. One respondent said, I dont have enough people to get the work done now, and theyre still adding stuff to my plate.

About a quarter of the respondents identified an issue with providing OCFO services to their customers and stakeholders. This included the need to improve their processes and/or realign their business processes to reflect budget-driven changes. Some discussed relationships with customers and stakeholders, and others discussed meeting customer and stakeholder expectations with reduced funding and staffing. One respon-dent said, I need to balance working with less resources while maintaining customer expecta-tions and quality.

About 20% of respondents included systems among their three challenges. This included problems with existing systems, issues with new system implementations and concerns about the need and funding for systems that were not yet even in the planning phase. One respondent said, Our financial systems are antiquated and cannot give us what we want. Theyre going to fizzle out soon and thats a real challenge.

Training issues, both to keep employees current with changes and to bring new employees up to speed, were mentioned by about 10% of respon-dents, and about 8% of respondents saw challenges related to financial statement and other audits.

Our question also asked respondents how they would use their limited resources to address these challenges. Many did not answer this part of the

question, and those who did answer the question did not always provide a meaningful response, instead discussing continue to support, find a way and commit to communicating better. Some of the specific responses they did pro-vided included, creative budgeting, prioritize requirements, use a risk based approach, make smart investment decisions, close five regional offices, create a mentor program and change our culture into a more cost-conscious, limits-based culture. A number mentioned using contractors to fill gaps on a short-term basis. Some were quite pessimistic; one said, Theres nothing you can do about this.

OnlineThe online respondents gave us quite a mix of responses. Like the in-person respondents, many mentioned personnel (64% of respon-dents), budget (39%), training (25%), systems (24%) and audit (10%). Online respondents also mentioned communications (15% of respondents) and processes and customers (9% of respondents). However, the single largest cat-egory for online respondents was management/leadership, mentioned by 95% of respondents! This category barely registered among in-person respondents, probably because they are the man-agement/leadership that was a challenge for the online respondents.

The specific topics mentioned as challenges by the online respondents were varied and included

Educating the rest of the agency about our offices services

Lack of clear direction from senior management

Aligning our office efforts with senior manage-ments vision

Lack of leadership and trust


Rewarding hard work and dedication Replacing managers who do not engender trust Low morale and poor motivation (mentioned

by numerous respondents)

These challenges indicated an environment where the storm of budget cuts, hiring and pay freezes and increasing requirements have created a workforce worried about their own futures and the future of their agencies. This is something that CFOs and other agency leaders must address soon.

As with the in-person survey, our question also asked respondents how they would use their limited resources to address these challenges in the short term. More online respondents answered this part of the question than did in-person respondents, though, like the in-person respon-dents, many of those who did answer did not always provide a meaningful response, instead dis-cussing various ways to continue current activities such as continue to request resources, continue to have follow-up sessions and continue to find efficiencies. They also suggested Figure out how to do more with less, spend current dollars wisely and get by with what we have.

Their solutions to management/leadership chal-lenges were often to hire more staff or contrac-tors and to provide training. Apparently, budget issues were not seen by online respondents as

constraints to these solutions. They also had a number of responses that help to clarify what their challenges were:

Convince leadership to leave alone what is not broken

Offer more telecommuting Prod top management to lobby with external

stakeholders on the staffs behalf Stop wasting funds on under-qualified hires Raise the energy level in the office Defend against more budget cuts Use a balanced scorecard to attach urgency to


As one might expect for field operations per-sonnel, the challenges and responses of the online respondents were much more practical and inward looking. The respondents were also very interested in identifying their challenges and responses. Now it will fall to management/lead-ership to determine how they can respond.

These challenges [mentioned by online respondents] indicated an environment where the storm of budget cuts, hiring and pay freezes and increasing requirements have created a workforce

worried about their own futures and the future of their agencies.


how they influence the programs of their agen-cies. They must formulate, justify and execute their agencies budgets. They must account for the funding they receive from Congress in a manner that supports clean audit opinions. They must establish, operate and report on performance management programs that use valid performance measures to match operational performance to the achievement of the agencys strategic goals and objectives.

Continuing budget cuts, pay freezes, late appro-priations, the specter of sequester, trillion-dollar deficits and public denigration of civil servants by the media and their elected representatives make the CFOs job a difficult one. They know this. Every government executive has a tough job today. One of the CFOs said, Its a depressing job at times. But throughout this survey, we have seen that CFOs are being successful in spite of all that is thrown in their way. They are leading their teams to implement the Campaign to Cut Waste and to continue improving performance. They are collaborating with their own workforces and others to align strategies and structures, culture and people to create the optimum organization to help lead agencies to mission accomplishment.

Whether they are political appointees or career civil servants, CFOs are working with their staffs to get the job done. They are taking whatever resources the agency receives, and they are helping the agency allocate those resources to the highest-priority activities. No agency gets everything it wants to accomplish its mission, and the CFO plays a critical role in helping the agency meet its strategic goals and objectives regardless of the level of resources it receives. Yes, it is tough, but according to one CFO, quoting from The Godfather Part II, This is the life we chose.

While every government executive bears some responsibility for the governments response, CFOs have a leading role because they are functionally responsible for budgeting and performance management. They must chart the course for their staffs and ultimately the entire agency so they can find their way through the storm and achieve measurable results for the American public. They must understand the rules of engagement, including relevant statutes, congressional interests and OMB guidance, and













There is a storm out there. It is not a storm on the horizon; it is already here. It is driven by congressional budget cuts, the Campaign to Cut Waste, the requirements of GPRAMA and the continued poor performance of U.S. and global economies. It is a vicious cyclone, as budget cuts drive staff cuts, which impact performance. Meanwhile, GPRAMA requirements as well as public expectations continue to demand effectiveness and efficiency in government operations.












Additional informationIf you would like more copies of this survey or an opportunity to hear more about its content and the challenges facing the federal CFO community, please contact AGA at the address below:

Association of Government Accountants 2208 Mount Vernon Avenue Alexandria, VA 22301 Telephone: (703) 684-6931; (800) AGA-7211 Web Site: www.agacgfm.org E-Mail: [email protected]

survey ContributorsAssociation of Government Accountants

Relmond Van Daniker, DBA, CPA, Executive Director

Kevin Johnson, Director of Education and Research

Grant Thornton LLPRobert J. Shea, Survey director

Thad Juszczak

Douglas CriscitelloOwen Barwell, ACMAWendy Morton-Huddleston, CGFM, PMP

Amber VintonNancy McCaulay

Grant Thornton LLP333 John Carlyle StreetAlexandria, VA 22314

2012 Association of Government Accountants. All rights reserved.

Association of Government Accountants2208 Mount Vernon AvenueAlexandria, VA 22301