Government accountants issue advice to Treasury to help clean up its books

Monday - 7/23/2012, 11:59am EDT

Dick Gregg, Fiscal Assistant Secretary, Treasury

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The U.S. Treasury Department is working to clean up its financial reporting so that Congress' investigative arm can audit how the the nation keeps track of revenue, spending and the deficit.

The Government Accountability Office has not been able to grade the nation's fiscal books for 15 years because of missing or mismatched data. Although individual agencies report how they spend their allotted budget, the GAO can't reconcile that information with a government-wide snapshot of federal spending because the agencies use different category names or blend spending areas together.

To address the problem, the Association of Government Accountants has recommended a dozen changes that would improve how the federal government tracks and reports spending. And Dick Gregg, fiscal assistant secretary of the Treasury, says the help is welcomed.

"They've got some excellent ideas. They committed a huge amount of resources to doing this...we just have to figure out how to move forward," Gregg said.

Gregg's office combines financial reports for 150 agencies each November into a single government-wide financial report, released at the end of each year. The short turnaround and the huge amount of data sent to the Treasury Department compounds the problems in preparing an accurate report, he said.

He plans to work with agency-level finance officers to begin using a more standard set of reporting categories.

In the wake of the recession, focus on the federal deficit has grown along with the federal debt. Questions whether the U.S. could repay that debt led a credit rating agency to downgrade the federal government's bond rating last year, making it more expensive for the United States government to borrow money.

The accountants association felt it was important that the federal government could properly audit its books as leaders gauge the country's long-term financial stability, according to a statement.