An Inspirational 3 Days at AGA PDT 2021
Once again, Management Concepts was excited to exhibit at the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) Professional Development Training (PDT), which was held virtually for the second year in a row. Though we weren’t all able to gather in Nashville as planned, AGA’s “Set the Stage” theme was carried throughout the event, with excellent content and engaging speakers that highlighted the new developments and future landscape in the field of government financial management.
Ms. Ann Ebberts kicked off the conference with Hon. Gene Dodaro, CGFM and Comptroller General, General Accountability Office (GAO). He shared how the GAO is celebrating its 100th year supporting Congress and the American People by evaluating financial and performance activity within the federal government. The agency has risen to new heights within the federal government with the establishment of GAO’s Innovation Labs, which have expanded the agency’s data collection and analysis capabilities through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies. Hon. Dodaro also spoke about his GAO workforce efforts during the pandemic to adjust for work-life balance during these unique times, even as far as a shift to working on Saturdays for those who need it. As always, the first session set the tone — or should I say stage — for this year’s PDT overall and for all the sessions to follow. While we were not able to sit in on each session, we certainly gathered many shareable highlights from those we did.
Monday’s sessions included a variety of topics that ranged from post-pandemic, the new normal in the financial management community, and the need for grants management professionals to focus on the completion of audit recommendations in the overburdened world of grants management. Monday’s afternoon stage shifted heavily to information technology and discussion of how AI should be incorporated into the government framework, to the impacts of cyberattacks on infrastructure and government at all levels — federal, state, and local.
Day one ended with Josh Linkner, tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist, sharing how big breakthroughs sometimes evolve from the smallest of ideas. Linkner asserted that the financial management workforce is full of creative thinkers and everyday innovators. His skillful and inspiring words aimed to displace myths (that financial management is cut and dry) that hopefully inspired the FM community to avoid rigidity and engage in new ways of thinking. He cited an example of window washers dressing as superheroes at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and how this small but ingenious action may have changed patients’ lives at the hospital.
The second day began with another showstopper as bestselling author and leading authority on collaboration and innovation Erica Dhawan shared her thoughts on how the last 18 months have shaped the digital landscape for the new normal. Many of the audience identified with Dhawan as she shared story after story about video calls and chats gone wrong from late communication and other errors that caused more multi-tasking and lack of focus which has possibly become the norm. She suggested a pathway to avoid feeling overwhelmed, which included tools to prepare for and improve collaboration, build trust, and use digital body language to establish new norms.
Next, the audience broke into sessions that dealt with how the cloud is impacting the financial management community, to ‘where is my data?’ and ‘how secure is it?’ where improved skills and techniques in producing financial reports were explored. Other presentations made the audience consider how technology can be used to bridge financial management gaps to support activities like acquisition and program management offices. One afternoon session addressed improper payments not just for federal entities but state and local government as well, as best practices can work at all levels. But above all, data, data, and more data was the dominant theme in several sessions, reflecting on how the American public looks at data and how data can improve audit results.
The third day began as brilliantly and ended on an equally inspiring high note. The morning plenary session “OMB and Treasury Update — What you need to know!” was moderated by Ms. Ann Ebberts, with Mr. David Lebryk, Fiscal Assistant Secretary, Department of the Treasury, and Mr. John Pasquantino, Acting Controller, Office of Management and Budget (OMB). They provided insight into the current administration’s upcoming priorities and their impact on the financial management community. Both stressed the importance of good data analytics to evaluate performance goals, as the budget will only be getting tighter in the coming years. Wednesday’s sessions covered a wide variety of topics, from blockchain to mitigating fraud and risk to protect your agency’s budget and how the make the single audit even more effective than before. There was even an afternoon session on how to beat “Zoom fatigue,” though, after three days of exciting presentations, we didn’t have Zoom fatigue at all.
But all good things must come to an end, and the curtain call for the PDT ended with an amazing but heart-wrenching note for our future told by Alex Sheen, TEDxTalk speaker, author, internationally recognized humanitarian, and founder of the “because I said I would” movement. He shared of promise and hope for our future with his movement. I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the audience. He brought hope and good feelings to so many in the session. I know his remarks have already made a difference to us as we left the 3-day PDT stage on a high note of a bright future for those in the financial management community.
Fun and Games
In addition to all of the outstanding sessions and speakers, AGA added fun to the mix to foster engagement and interaction between attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. AGA has always been ahead of the curve in virtual conferences, having had a virtual component to their onsite events even before the shift to fully virtual in 2020. Gamification strategies are always a hit during AGA events; many attendees took advantage of the exhibitor scavenger hunt, collecting points for prizes by finding secret words and phrases within the exhibitor booths. Prizes were also awarded to the top participants in the PDT Engage Challenge, where badges and points were awarded for chats, messaging, and other activities. Other draws included a virtual photo booth and health and wellness sessions. But perhaps the biggest hit was the “backstage pass to Hamilton,” a lunchtime session where participants met cast members and enjoyed a live performance with selections from the world-famous musical.
We were pleased to welcome hundreds of visitors to the Management Concepts virtual booth, where we debuted information on our new and upcoming courses in emerging technologies for the FM community, including Robotic Process Automation, Cutting Edge Applications, Information Systems Audits, Data-Driven Technology, and Cloud Applications. Other new and updated courses in financial management include government travel, audit, and analytics. Those who filled our survey were entered in our gift card raffle and will receive early notification when registration opens for our complimentary live webinar “Agency Operations in the Absence of Regular Appropriation Bills (The Do’s and Don’ts of Conducting Business During a Continuing Resolution). The recording of our recent live webinar “Appropriations Law and Year-End Spending” was also available to attendees to watch any time on-demand.
With so many new and exciting developments in financial management now and on the horizon, PDT attendees could not help but leave this conference with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the work that lies before them. We are excited to continue the momentum, and to see everyone in person in Washington, DC (as well as online) at the AGA Internal Control & Fraud Prevention Training hybrid event this September.
Stay up to date on Management Concepts participation in AGA events by visiting our AGA supporter page.
Tom Devine, MBA, CDFM, is a Course Management Director of Financial Management at Management Concepts with expertise in appropriation law, internal control, auditing, accounting, DoD planning, programming, budgeting, and execution. Tom provided training and management consulting to government and commercial clients for several years after investing more than 30 years as a public service and commercial business leader.
Tom holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, concentrating on finance from Nichols College. He holds a Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM) and is a proud member of the American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC).
Vera Medici is Marketing Manager, Events & Strategic Partnerships at Management Concepts. In this role, she communicates and collaborates with clients, organizations, and strategic partners. She prepares for and manages all aspects of participation at trade shows, special events, and webinars and expertly manages all social media activity. Vera holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from George Mason University.