Are agency CFOs up for budget battles?

Friday - 11/18/2011, 6:06pm EST

Jonathan Stehle, President, American Association for Budget and Program Analysis

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The federal budget environment — complicated by Congress and the shifting political winds — has only made the job of federal chief financial officer and budget teams that much more difficult.

But the good news is, they say they're looking forward to the challenge, said Jonathan Stehle, president of the American Association for Budget and Program Analysis, in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose.

That was also the theme that emerged from a recent AABPA report, "The Road Forward, The Federal Budget and Budgeting Profession."

Making a difference

By and large, federal budget managers remain satisfied with their jobs, Stehle said.

"They see a way that they can make a difference," he explained. "They can see a way they can be involved, and that energy is something that can be harnessed."

Despite the fact that Congress has turned the budget-making process into a high-stakes game of political chicken, the report found that federal budget managers remain engaged in the process, in part, because of the community, all-hands-on-deck aspect.

"We hear across the board, it's that teamwork effort that comes together and opportunity to make a difference and provide information for decision makers that drives this group," he said.

Linking data with performance

Stehle said the influx of federal dollars from the 2009 Recovery Act — and the concomitant push for more transparency about how the money was spent — led to a "sea change" in better linking budgeting with performance.

"You're seeing, especially with the Recovery Act and Recovery.gov, a demand for more information linking budget and information."

But Stehle acknowledged a ways to go on this front.

According to the report, 34 percent of respondents said they only used integrated performance and budget information once a year. About 10 percent said they never used such information.

"It's difficult to link the information because it's hard to turn the data you have into information decision makers can use," Stehle explained.

"There's a void that this profession is trying to fill to make it to that next level," he added.

While budget cutting is undoubtedly difficult, there are some areas that managers find easier than others, according to the survey.

"Wherever [respondents] said it was easy," Stehle explained, "is where they had top agency commitment to it and where it was part of the normal practice."