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The Association of Government Accountants' Dr. Relmond Van Daniker Discusses the Role and Responsibilities of the AGA

Written by AnonymousNovember 11, 2011
Association of Government Accountants

The Association of Government Accountants (AGA), agacgfm.org, fosters learning, certification, leadership and collaboration for professionals and stakeholders committed to advancing accountability in government.

The AGA is the regulatory and certification board for the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM). Those served by the government financial manager include taxpayers, customers, employers, employees, investors, the business and financial community and others who rely on the orderly financial functioning of government. This reliance imposes a considerable public interest responsibility upon government financial managers.

Government financial managers play an important role in society. Employers, the government and the general public rely on government financial managers for sound accounting, reporting and effective financial management within the government sector. Government financial managers providing these services impact the economic well-being of their local communities and country while serving government’s most important customer: the American public.

Dr. Relmond Van Daniker, Executive Director, Association of Government Accountants, recently spoke with AccountingCareersForDummies.com to discuss the role and responsibilities of the AGA. Dr. Van Daniker also explains why the certified government financial manager’s role is more important than ever to citizens and taxpayers.  Below is part one of a two part interview series with the Association of Government Accountants.

ACFD: Can you tell me about the role and responsibilities of The Association of Government Accountants (AGA)?

RV: The Association of Government Accountants is a group almost 16,000 individuals across the country. There are 100 chapters, and we are interested in advancing government accountability.  The biggest business in the United States is government and if we don’t have outstanding accountability in the government then how are we going to expect to have the kind of accountability necessary in the private sector? We are the only group involved in this area that has a membership including the federal, state and local governments. Most organizations have either federal or state or local, but we cut across all three areas. The ideas that we have are that we want to foster learning, certification, provide leadership and collaboration for different groups for the professionals and stake holders who are committed to advancing government accountability. 

AGA has five strategic goals.  The first goal is to educate and empower professionals to advance government accountability. We do that by providing conferences, educational classes, technical training, and other opportunities so that people can get up to speed. The second goal deals with certification and we are trying to enhance government accountability by the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM).  This is the certification that deals with government finance. This is not the CPA, Certified Internal Auditor or other certification. Rather, it deals with governmental financial management in all forms.  It is a three part exam that you must take in order to receive a certificate. We’re trying to float all boats higher by raising the level of professionalism within government, and it’s not just the federal government - it’s the state and local governments as well. We are trying to increase technical competence and hopefully we will have many more CGFM’s than we have now. Clearly, government is an area in which, with so much money at stake, we need to have qualified people.  Next, beyond empowerment and certification is thought leadership - and this is the key ingredient. In the past eight years, we have developed a presence within many communities; the community of the federal government as well as federal agencies where they have grown to ask us to help them out.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury has asked us to provide some technical support and new ideas on how they can prepare the consolidated financial statements for the federal government.  Many people do not know that, at this point in time, the financial statements of the federal government are not auditable and therefore, there’s no evaluation from the bond raters based on any audited financial statements. I won’t go into the technical aspect as obviously it is much more complicated and difficult to get a set of consolidated financial statements from the federal government. The number of entities and agencies that exist in the federal government is substantial, but, the federal government is not unique in this regard.  We prepare the financial statements for Marriott Hotels or Subway restaurants. The number of Marriott operations that need to be consolidated to prepare a set of financial statements is significant. There are several thousands of entities to consolidate.  So, it may be complicated for the federal government, but it’s not a unique situation. The fourth goal is collaboration between groups. There’s too much emphasis on silos, that is, “this is my turf”. Well, in reality it just can’t be your turf. It has to be much more across the board and we’re losing too much time and effort and money in creating all these silos, so we are working to break down these silos. Finally, we want to make sure that we have good member value and an effective and efficient organization.  We would encourage anyone who is interested in governmental accounting, governmental finance to consider participating with us.  

ACFD: Certified Government Financial Managers (CGFMs) specialize in financial management for the government sector, why is this finance specialization important for citizens and taxpayers?

RV: As a citizen and a taxpayer, it would be reasonable to assume that you would be getting information from the government that you could use and understand. But at this moment, you don’t. You’re not getting any information.

When I was teaching, I would ask the students, “Why do we do what we do?” The answer to that question is, as accountants and financial people, we provide information for people to make decisions. I would encourage anyone to ask, “What information are you getting from government that puts you in a position to make any decision about anything?”  We believe that some organization has to take the lead. Since AGA is the only organization that cross-cuts federal, state and local governments, in effect, we need to take the lead. 

AGA has developed a four-page, Citizen-Centric Report® (CCR). We have created the templates and so that government employees can drop in the information and provide a report to the citizens and taxpayers. This lack of information is unfortunately one of the huge issues leading to distrust by the citizens in government. There is distrust when you don’t understand and when you’re not getting any information to help you understand. It is imperative that you get this information in a form that you can comprehend. Therefore, in a CCR, there are no accounting terms - we don’t ask you to define accruals or other accounting terminology. We put this in a format in which the people can read and understand. This is for the non-accountants. This is for your aunts, uncles, kids, who didn’t take accounting classes.  At the same time, we have over 300 million people in the United States and there are very, very few people who actually read financial statements, and even if they did, would understand anything. So, it has to start some place. As I often say: if not us, then who? And if we don’t start now, then when would we start?  You can’t just sit back and wait. There is just too much divisiveness and arguing within Congress and the administration, we need to provide the tools so that people in the grassroots areas can ask questions; at town hall meetings, at their local government meetings for their government to provide documents that they can read and understand. It is our government, it’s not the elected officials’ government because if we don’t like what they’re doing we can vote them out again. We need qualified people to handle the tax payer’s money and we also need qualified people that will report back to us about what is actually going on.

Check out more interviews at Accounting Careers for Dummies Interview Series.