GSA CFO celebrates another 'clean audit opinion'

Tuesday - 12/1/2009, 7:06am EST

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
FederalNewsRadio

It's said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, it can also be said that the road to accountability and transparency in government is paved with "clean audit opinions".

In the case of the General Services Administration, those three words are especially good news to the agency's Chief Financial Officer, Kathleen Turco.

GSA, for its fiscal year 2009 financial reports, received a "clean audit opinion", or an "unqualified opinion" from our external financial auditors, KPMG.

The "clean audit opinon" on GSA's 2009 financials marks the fourth straight fiscal year in which the agency's books received the best rating possible in the financial auditing community.

GSA handles everything from leasing large federal buildings so agencies have an office, down to fleet cars and trucks and even paper clips. And Turco says close analysis of the agency's financial report offers insight into a little-known fact about her agency.

"GSA is kind of a 'hybrid agency'," she explained, "in that the majority of its funds comes from its customers. And we use 'revolving funds' rather than 'appropriated funds', and the financial audit and the clean opinion are very important to us, in proving to our customers that we are appropriately using their budget authority to carry out our mission. "

In a recent telephone interview, Federal News Radio asked Turco to elaborate on the challenges she and her staff face in accounting for a revolving funds organization.

We have all the challenges here at GSA that the appropriated agencies have, plus we have a heavy focus on our revenue and expense side of the house. Most agencies focus on obligations and outlays, which we focus on, but we also focus on profit and loss, and revenue and expenses, in terms of the revenue we receive for the goods and services that we provide our agencies. So, in particular, in our financial statements, and in the work of our auditors, they're not only looking at our obligational activity, they're looking at our unfilled customer orders, our obligations on how long they're on the books, are we moving the goods and services that we promised, and whether or not we are paying our bills on time. Also inherent in our audit is the operation of our financial system, which is also audited. Our financial system is called Pegasus, and our financial system received a clean bill of health as well.

Turco acknowledges that GSA's books might not be unfamiliar to a CFO or accountant in a private business, since her financials deal with "cash flow, inventory, the age of our receivables, the age of our obligations, and our payables, the interaction with our customers, and our interaction with the companies we go to provide the goods and services."

Much of the credit for the clean audit opinion, says Turco, goes to the "strong financial community" at GSA, along with accounting staff within the Public Buildings Service, and the Federal Acquisition Service (two branches of GSA). She says her staff also partners with program officers, acquisition staff, and IT staff at other agencies.

Turco also says a key to audit success is in implementation of OMB circular A-123, "Management's Responsibility for Internal Controls". She says "integrated project teams, consisting of financial staff, program staff, acquisition staff, and IT staff, go out and we look at particular business areas, in the public buildings arena or the contracting arena, and we test our internal controls to see how well things are working." She says they conduct such tests prior to the arrival of the outside auditors, and go a long way to building relationships between the accounting community and the program community.

Turco says on December 9th, she and Acting GSA Administrator Paul Prouty will hold a CFO recognition ceremony to honor those who worked to achieve the GSA's 'clean audit opinion'.

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Related links: GSA - Fiscal 2005-2009 Annual Performance and Accountability Reports (PDF documents)

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