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Insights and updates from AGA’s 2018 National Leadership Training

Posted by on Mar 5, 2018 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Insights and updates from AGA’s 2018 National Leadership Training

I recently had the opportunity to represent Management Concepts at the Association of Government Accountants’ National Leadership Training (NLT) event at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.  This two-day event is designed to develop and train government financial professionals to excel as leaders.  Featured speakers included Dave DeLong, President, Smart Workforce Strategies and Mark Updegrove, CEO, National Medal of Honor Museum.  The event drew hundreds of CEO’s, CFO’s, senior executives, PhD’s, CPA’s, senior managers, and future leaders from Federal, state, and local organizations across the U.S. So, what was in it for attendees? The agenda included timely presentations on the OMB Budget Update, Enterprise Risk Management, the DoD Audit Update, Digital Transformation in Government, Using the “Right” Data to enable evidence-based decision-making, Engaging Millennials in Government Financial Management and more.  The featured speakers made a tremendous impact on attendees as Dave DeLong spoke about “Closing the Skills Gap:  Innovative Talent Management Solutions for a Changing Workforce, and Mark Updegrove shared wisdom and “Lessons in Character and Leadership from Seven American Presidents.”  The event addressed many critical areas that current and emerging financial leaders need to excel in today’s competitive environment.  It was rewarding to provide attendees information on training and consulting services that Management Concepts provides to help them gain the knowledge needed to move to the next level. Throughout the event, there were several skills emphasized for current and future leaders to possess. Some of those abilities included: Project/Program Management Change Management Decision-making Leadership Oral Presentation (to senior leaders) Intellectual Curiosity Data Analysis Relationship Building (Interpersonal) We enjoyed meeting professionals from the various agencies, organizations and companies represented and we look forward to seeing you at next year’s NLT.  In the meantime, stay in touch, keep learning, and visit our website for upcoming classes to support your professional development....

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Use It or Lose It: Fiscal Year-End Spending

Posted by on Aug 2, 2017 in Financial Management, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Use It or Lose It: Fiscal Year-End Spending

The end of the Federal fiscal year is well on its way, and that means funds may be made available to certain programs and activities for obligation before they expire on September 30. These funds usually flow from things that could not be executed as planned, or from reserves for contingencies that never materialized. How to manage it? Be ready with a prioritized “buy” list AND be legal by following the Bona Fide Needs Rule (BFN)! Did you catch our complimentary webinar last week on legal and responsible spending practices for the end of a fiscal year? I shared an array of tips and rules every Federal employee should know about how and when to correctly spend appropriated funds, including exceptions to the BFN and flexibilities permitted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). I also overviewed best practices with regards to avoiding or reporting violations of the Antideficiency Act (ADA); many violations come from violations of the rule. While I highly recommend downloading the webinar for detailed and varied examples of proper year-end spending, here are a few quick tips and takeaways from my presentation: Be sure a legitimate NEED exists during the year when obligating the year’s funding. Therefore, if you actually need it next year, use next year’s funds. If you have a legitimate need for training toward the end of the fiscal year, and cannot get it delivered by year end, taking delivery of it – if your agency agrees – in the first quarter of the upcoming fiscal year meets an acceptable rule of thumb. How to avoid ADA violations? By training and education, AND by implementing sound internal control. Lastly, to stay up to date on the GAO’s latest decisions and reports, I recommend subscribing to GAO’s email list. I also recommend consulting GAO’s Principles of Federal Appropriations Law – the Red Book – for further guidance on the above issues, or for any other questions that may come up related to year-end spending. Better yet, download our fiscal year-end webinar on everything covered above – and more. And while our webinar only covers one hour’s worth of rules, regulations, and guidance, our Appropriations law training courses (including a Seminar and a Refresher & Update course) offer much more guidance, information, and skills training. Check out our complete suite of Appropriations Law offerings and sign up for an upcoming class—with virtual, remote, and classroom delivery options. Feel free to leave comments and questions below. And be sure to spend...

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AGA PDT 2017: Top Takeaways from Financial Management Conference

Posted by on Jul 18, 2017 in Financial Management | 0 comments

AGA PDT 2017: Top Takeaways from Financial Management Conference

Last week in Boston, over one thousand of the nation’s government financial management professionals convened for expert insights and networking (and CPEs) at the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) annual Professional Development Training (PDT) event. Topics ranged from pressing issues such as cybersecurity and systems modernization, to always-important skill development in auditing, communication, leadership, and finding resilience and balance in the churn and turmoil of today’s rapidly evolving work environments. In the exhibition hall, we hosted a Management Concepts booth and brought a small cadre of our leaders, consultants, and Federal FM training experts, including Steve Maier, President of Management Concepts. It was great to catch up with so many of our longstanding partners and colleagues and meet with clients and customers; and the presentations were lively, jam-packed, and informative. Here are our top takeaways from our conversations in the exhibition hall and from sessions throughout the conference: Agencies need to take action on good ideas for doing their work differently. This may be a frequent comment at conferences lately, but the message isn’t losing steam (and it shouldn’t). This includes leaders getting everybody in organizations to accept that they need to do their work differently, and it won’t happen without a concentrated, patient, but constantly pro-active commitment to culture change. Is your organization practicing a learning culture to make this effort a success? There’s a large need for inter- and intra-agency collaboration to improve operations and increase capabilities. We agree! Change agents should connect to show how their organizations can add value to other organizations in your agency. The individual needs to adapt to technology, not the other way around. While there’s a time and a place for true custom solutions, organizations and providers can’t always customize technology to such a point that it removes the value of purchasing a COTS system. To advance professionally, having a mentor, a coach, and a collaborator is key. Training solutions that truly help professionals excel in the Federal financial management space have to take into consideration an interdisciplinary menu of training topics. Especially in times of turmoil and uncertainty, honing core skills in leadership, or acquiring data analytics skills, can help you and your team reach new heights. And of course, don’t miss timely training opportunities to get up to speed on enterprise risk management (ERM) and internal...

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Inspiration and Insight at AGA’s 2017 National Leadership Training Event

Posted by on Feb 23, 2017 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Inspiration and Insight at AGA’s 2017 National Leadership Training Event

Last week, on behalf of Management Concepts, a group of colleagues and I attended the National Leadership Training (NLT) event in Washington, D.C., a two-day event organized by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA). Keynote presenters included Chip Fulghum (Deputy Under Secretary of Management, Dept. of Homeland Security), Janice Hamby (Chancellor, National Defense University iCollege), and Jonathan Karl (Chief White House Correspondent, ABC News). The exhibit hall was packed with accountants, auditors, CEOs, CPAs, CGFMs, CFOs, consultants, senior government leaders, and business developers—made for a pretty broad representation of Federal financial management professionals. So, what kept everybody together for two days? Dedication to outstanding public service and exceptional leadership. The event schedule was filled with expert-led presentations, with topics including Presidential transition, cyber security, the DATA act, and risk management—and most importantly there were a number of spirited leadership development sessions. The two-day event flew by in a rush of wisdom, forward thinking, and engaged community. We did our best to take it all in, while promoting Management Concepts latest opportunities for professional development training and consulting. Here are some of our top takeaways and quotes (more or less paraphrased) from the two-day event: Data Act implementation will help improve performance within the government, and there will be a learning curve for all those involved in its implementation. The curve will need to be met with smart planning and thoughtful leadership—we’ve prepared a complimentary webinar to help people ready their teams. Accurate preparation of data by government employees is crucial in order to support data-driven decisions by incoming political appointees and other new leaders. Savvy professionals show the way with good data. Leadership is full of peaks and valleys. How you deal with both is what makes you a good leader (Yep, that means learning how to deal with success just as well as how to deal with challenge and failure). Continuous learning is key to being a good leader. Do things that frighten and challenge you, and always consider how you’re working to unleash the best from others. “Reach one. Teach one. Grab one. Drag one.” That’s a quote from Gwendolyn Sykes, CFO U.S. Secret Service, during her presentation in the Path to Leadership When it comes to mentorship, there are various ways to mentor others, and it’s important to have more than one technique at your disposal. What are yours? Supporting Federal financial management professionals is integral to our mission—thanks to all who stopped by our booth. We already look forward to next year’s NLT, but in the meantime, stay in touch with us through our Federal financial management blogs, and check out our upcoming course offerings: Internal Control: Meeting Federal Requirements for Accountability Appropriations Law Seminar Leadership and Management...

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Federal Financial Management Changes in 2017: It Started in 2016

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Federal Financial Management Changes in 2017: It Started in 2016

It was a big year for Federal Financial Management in 2016, and 2017 is shaping up to be another important year for all of you FMers out there. Here’s a two-part rundown of big changes in 2016 that will continue to affect our field in 2017—we’ve included quick tips and reminders for adapting to these changes, and resources for how to stay up to date in our ever-changing field. 1. Revisions to the Red Book: Principles of Federal Appropriations Law What happened? In March 2016, GAO released revisions to the first and second chapters of the 4th edition of Red Book. What changed? GAO stated it will no longer publish hard copies of the Red Book and will annually update the 4th edition once it is complete (likely to start updates in 2018). What does this mean for 2017? Two big revisions in the Red Book involve resolving conflicts between statutes and unclear legislation. Here are some hints for making decisions in 2017: Resolving Conflicts between Statutes. Yes, sometimes laws appear to conflict with other laws. What do you do? GAO has established a set of principles in resolving conflicts between statutes. Follow these in order: 1) Harmonize Different statutes, 2) Specific laws control general laws, and 3) Later laws prevail over earlier laws. Unclear Legislation. And, sometimes we just do not understand the plain meaning of a law. What do you do? For unclear legislation, use legislative history. This refers to the body of documents from the time of introduction of a bill to the time of enactment and even afterwards. The order to follow is merely a guideline. Some may have greater weight than others. So, use the following sources of documentation: 1) Committee reports, 2) Floor debates, 3) Hearings, 4) Post-enactment statements, and 5) Development of statutory language. What resources can get you up to speed (and keep you on top of) changes to the Red Book? Look for GAO to announce additional revised chapters throughout 2017, and enroll in our popular Appropriations Law Seminar. 2. Revised OMB Circular A-123 What happened? In July 2016, OMB published a long-awaited revision to OMB Circular A-123. What changed? Agencies are now required to have Senior Management Councils overseeing internal control programs, ERM Programs including Risk Profiles, and rigorous documentation in internal controls assessments against more detailed internal control standards. What does this mean for 2017? There a few deadlines to watch out for that will be here before you know it! Due June 2, 2017: A risk profile developed in coordination with agency strategic reviews Due: September 15, 2017: ERM assessments integrated with management evaluation of internal control as required by FMFIA What resources can get you up to speed with the revised A-123? Download our complimentary webinar! And catch our follow-up blog post where we addressed questions from the audience. Management Concepts now offers a revised Internal Controls course that will help you meet the 2017 deadlines and create an efficient organization. The Federal workforce will see new challenges and opportunities throughout the year, and the Financial Management professionals will see the same workforce opportunities and challenges as everybody else. Stay up to date on Federal Financial Management skills and required knowledge by enrolling in training, and by subscribing to our...

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Q and A: All about the New A-123

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Featured, Financial Management | 0 comments

Q and A: All about the New A-123

In September, Management Concepts presented a free webinar—Easy as A-123: What You Need to Know About the Update—highlighting the significant changes to OMB Circular A-123 Management’s Responsibility for Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Control. During the Q&A, there was time to answer only a few questions from agency staff, but many good ones were submitted. Below are answers to the most representative questions. What is required for Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) in 2016? Whereas A-123 is generally effective for 2016—except for some ERM deadlines in 2017—not much of anything could practically have been implemented during FY2016 and for FY2016 reporting. Here’s why: based on my observations over the years, agencies generally have collected and analyzed their internal control assessments by late August of each year. That schedule makes it next to impossible for agencies to have implemented the new requirements in A-123, which was issued in July. Even to implement all the new requirements for FY2017, agencies will likely have to begin right now. Is the Internal Control Over Financial Reporting (ICOFR) statement required for the FY2016 statement of assurance? While A-123 did not address this specifically, and I cannot speak officially to this, my guess is that agencies will still report their ICOFR statements. Check with your agency internal control program office. Should the Green Book be updated to reflect changes to the new A-123? Not really. The 2014 Green Book reflects the latest approach to internal control standards and the new A-123 recognizes that by putting more emphasis of following the revised Green Book. Do the new requirements apply to government contractors? No, Federally required internal control assessments have always applied only to executive branch agencies. However, any controls impacted or operated by contractors may need to be considered in management’s assessments of controls, there is no requirement in FMFIA or A-123 that contractors assess and report on internal controls. Where can I find the CFO Council/Performance Improvement Council Playbook? The ERM Playbook can be accessed at CFO.gov. From the CFO.gov home page, scroll down slightly, and you will see “Featured Initiatives.” Click on “ERM” and you will get a short write-up. On the write-up page you will see a column announcing the release of the ERM Playbook, with a “Read more” box at the bottom—click it and you will get a link to the Playbook. What is your prediction on staffing? In my opinion, most agencies were understaffed in terms of personnel assigned to work full-time and part-time on implementing the internal control assessment and reporting requirements. And that was before the greatly expanded mandates of the new A-123. At a minimum, for those agencies that do not currently have an ERM program, they will have to add resources to design and implement one. The amount of resources will depend on the emphasis an agency puts on ERM. (Hint: there may be great career opportunities for those who get involved in this area!) Do the FMFIA and A-123 apply to legislative agencies? No. Both the law and the circular are addressed to executive branch agencies. That being said, legislative branch agencies are free to adopt concepts and practices from laws and regulations applicable to executive branch agencies, and some do. Is ERM expected to be evaluated at the assessable unit (AU) level, or is this to...

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Analysis Paralysis: Find Time to Get the Croissant with Your Cup of Coffee

Posted by on Oct 11, 2016 in Analytics, Financial Management | 0 comments

Analysis Paralysis: Find Time to Get the Croissant with Your Cup of Coffee

You’ve just submitted the report that your supervisor wanted on projected HR costs for next quarter. As you lean back to enjoy your second cup of coffee and begin to tackle your next project, an email asking you to run the analysis based on a different set of assumptions pops up in your inbox. So much for getting a head-start on that other project. We’ve all been in this situation at least once. I’ll be the first to admit that in my early years as an analyst, I found myself copying and pasting – creating new worksheets for each request. Soon my workbooks looked like an eight-headed beast that couldn’t be slain, like the mythical Greek hydra. Changing one or two input items yielding different results that management can act upon is referred to as “modeling”. Fortunately, Microsoft Excel’s “Scenario Manager” provides the functionality that allows an analyst to generate these different scenarios with a minimal amount of tedious copying, pasting, and formatting. This function allows the analyst to establish a menu of scenarios that will be used to produce the target value (HR costs in my example) and create a production-ready summary table. Here are some tips for using to help free up the time to enjoy that second cup of coffee. Think through the computations and how you structure that within the worksheet. For example, if I am modeling HR costs based on number of FTEs (employees) and benefit costs (fixed and variable), I put those input items in separate cells. Many analysts will limit themselves to one input item, but Scenario Manager allows for multiple items that can be varied. Use named ranges for the input items that will be changing. Scenario Manager will use these names in the output. If you don’t name the ranges, only the addresses will be used – e.g. “$B$1” – which will only lead to questions and confusion. My personal preference is to use three scenarios. One will represent the status quo and the other two will be aggressive and conservative. Alternatively, you could use the terms Low, Medium, High. Exhibiting more than three will likely generate more questions…which means more work for you! Even though a variable may not need to be changed, I tend to include it in my output report, but the value will remain constant. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, it reminds me of the variables I used to construct the model. Second, it demonstrates to the audience that you are proactive and considering other items that could impact your analysis – even though you are keeping the value constant for the current analysis. Let me share a bit more detail, using the example of HR costs… Below is the section of the worksheet where I put my computations. Notice that I have used named ranges and they are used in the formula in cell B6. Based upon this structure, my scenarios can vary any of the four input items: FTE, Fixed Benefit $, Salary, and Variable Benefit. I am going to run scenarios that change the number of FTEs and Fixed Benefit and keep the other two constant. These scenarios will be (Low) 25 FTE, $250 Fixed Benefit; (Medium) 50 FTE, $100 Fixed Benefit; and (High) 100 FTE, $75 Fixed Benefit....

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OMB Circular A-123 Revision

Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Financial Management | 10 comments

OMB Circular A-123 Revision

ERM – Far Reaching Requirements for Agencies in new A-123 The long-awaited OMB Circular A-123 Management’s Responsibility for Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Control finally was issued on July 15, 2016.  We all knew that it would contain new requirements for Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) but did not know exactly what it would require, and what else would change or be added.  For starters, the document grew from 16 substantive pages to a little over 48 pages.  That gives you some idea of the scope of the changes.  Below is a definition of ERM and a summary of the significant additions/changes to the circular. ERM as defined in the Circular: “ERM is an effective agency-wide approach to addressing the full spectrum of the organization’s external and internal risks by understanding the combined impact of risks as an interrelated portfolio, rather than addressing risks only within silos.” In other words, rather than looking at risks just on a program by program basis – or just by division, directorate, function, or even bureau – entity-wide (i.e., department-wide, agency-wide, etc.) assessments will be done.  In the past A-123 did not address risk this way, and most agencies did not do entity-wide risk assessments, while a few did set up formal ERM programs. Summary of New A-123 Requirements Agencies are required to implement an ERM capability coordinated with: The strategic planning and review process established by GPRAMA The internal control processes required by the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA) GAO’s Green Book That’s a lot of new work for most agencies! This is the first time agencies have been required to associate internal control assessments with the overall performance and strategic planning processes required by Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRAMA).  OMB provides references in A-123 to pertinent parts of OMB Circular A-11 Budget Formulation and Execution in order to make the association. In terms of deadlines and deliverables, agencies must: Develop an ERM implementation approach. DUE: As soon as practicable before June 2017. Develop a risk profile in coordination with agency strategic reviews. DUE:  June 2, 2017 Integrate ERM assessments with management evaluation of internal control as required by FMFIA. DUE:  September 15, 2017 (to be covered by the annual statement of assurance and reported in the Agency Financial Report (AFR) or Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) Other New Requirements for Assessing Internal Control While the above points represent the new A-123 requirements for ERM, it should be noted that there are further requirements for enhancing the internal control assessments that have always been required, most notably the following: While internal control assessments were always supposed to be done by measuring against the GAO’s Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government (the Green Book), the new A-123 lays down much more detailed guidance on how to use the standards.  For example, agencies must now document assessments not only for the five components of the standards, but also for the 17 principles underlying the components.  ALSO, if an agency concludes non-achievement of one of the principles, it must report that as a material weakness in its annual statement of assurance. Have questions on this news? Keep an eye out for our A-123 Complimentary Webinar on September 28 – more information coming...

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IT’S CRUNCH TIME! Fiscal Year-End Spending

Posted by on Jul 15, 2016 in Financial Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

IT’S CRUNCH TIME! Fiscal Year-End Spending

The end of the fiscal year is rapidly approaching…and you know what that means… Yep!  We’ve got a lot of things to get obligated – things we need but either haven’t been able to purchase yet, or things we haven’t had the funding for.  There’s hope that – as often happens – “they” will find some funding that’s available and we’ll get some of it.  It may be late in the year, but we’ll take it! Did you miss our complimentary webinar last week on the ins and outs of fiscal year-end spending? Don’t worry – an archive recording and the presentation are still available for download. In the meantime, here are the top 10 things to remember as we try to manage our year-end spending: The “Bona Fide Needs Rule.”  It says that you can only buy for needs that exist in the fiscal year to be charged.  That means, for FY16, you can only obligate for bona fide needs of this year.  You can’t use FY16 funds to buy next year’s needs (unless you follow some specific exceptions to be explained below). Have your priorities listed before the funding arrives so you can move fast and get them obligated before funding expires. Under the stock replacement rule, you can replenish stock (like office supplies) and purchase up to one year’s worth any time in the year (amount ordered has to be based on historical usage for one year). If there’s a long lead time for something that has to be ready early in the next fiscal year (like provisions for a ship that has to sail October 15), then you have a need to get the provisions ordered this fiscal year to meet the sailing date. You can register for a training class, or order a class to be delivered at your site, with FY16 funds and attend/take delivery of the training in FY17 (usually in the first quarter) as long as you (your agency) has no control over the timing and the length of time for attendance/delivery is not excessive. Severable services contracts (for recurring services like monthly copier maintenance) are legal even though they may cross fiscal year lines; i.e., you obligate the entire contract with FY16 funds even though some of the services will be rendered in FY17. Such contracts are limited to a maximum of 12 months. For non-severable contracts (those for taking delivery of some completed product or item at the end of a period of performance), you must obligate for the entire cost of the item with FY16 funds, and may still take delivery of the item sometime in FY17 or even beyond. If you have some type of subscription (new or renewal) that must begin on October 1, then you have a need to order it in FY16 in order for it to begin on October 1. For indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts whose period of performance crosses fiscal years, you obligate for the minimum order stated in the contract with funds available when the contract is signed. Then for orders placed after the minimum amount is ordered, you obligate them with funds current at the time the orders are placed. Don’t be tempted to “park” funds just to say they’re obligated so they won’t expire. This takes place...

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Improper Payment Reduction: Slow, but Steady

Posted by on Apr 27, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Improper Payment Reduction: Slow, but Steady

What’s Improper? Well, for one thing, improper payments by the Federal government. One definition of improper is: “Not in accordance with rules and standards.” When it comes to payments made by the Federal government – we’re talking trillions per year – there are lots of rules and standards, and even a few laws. Notwithstanding all the laws and rules, however, the Federal government still manages to make more than $100 billion in improper payments per year – 2015 estimate: $137 billion. To put that in perspective, only about 50 countries on the planet have GDPs of more than $100 billion! What are the causes of improper payments? Well, there are probably many specific causes, but most would fall into the category of poor internal controls. These causes would be things like outdated processes and systems or inadequate procedures that don’t permit adequate tracking of transactions (e.g., matching purchase orders with receipt of goods documents.) In some cases, it is simply that people are not following the prescribed procedures. The sheer number of transactions to be processed adds to the problems (DoD alone makes more than one billion payment transactions per year!). What’s being done about this huge issue? The current administration has made improper payments a top priority. In the recent past, the President has signed two laws and issued three directives that created a robust infrastructure for agencies to reduce improper payments in their programs. The overall requirements are spelled out in Appendix C to Circular No. A-123, Requirements for Effective Estimation and Remediation of Improper Payments. Requirements for agencies include annual reporting on improper payment amounts, remedial efforts, and recovery of improperly paid amounts. In addition, the inspectors general must annually report on the agencies’ progress in these areas. How have the agencies been doing? According to OMB, the governmentwide improper payment rate has declined for four consecutive years, from 5.42 percent in FY 2009 to 3.53 percent in FY2013. That is progress, but the amounts are still high. Agencies have their work cut out for them and will have to continue to devote resources to this issue for the long haul....

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Government’s Mistakes in Payments: Does It Lose the Right to Restitution?

Posted by on Apr 21, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Government’s Mistakes in Payments: Does It Lose the Right to Restitution?

The fiscal rules governing the use of Federal funds are complicated. As a result, mistakes happen. Errors often include making overpayments to Federal employees. If an employee receives such a payment, who bears the responsibility for the mistake – the employee or the government? In other words, does the employee have to repay the money even if the employee thought he or she was entitled to it and did not know that the payment amount was incorrect? Employees, in general, have to return the funds. Recently, this result happened even though the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) – the agency responsible for improving Federal financial functions – determined that the employee should not be required to make a repayment. See Department of Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, Case Number: 2015-WV-050505.2, dated November 9, 2015. In the case, an employee of the Department of the Army was assigned to attend the Defense Comptrollership Program (DCP). The program was not conducted at the employee’s permanent duty station and lasted more than one year. Such circumstances required that the Army place the employee on Extended Temporary Duty (ETDY). According to applicable rules, all allowances and reimbursements for travel expenses, plus any travel costs that the government pays directly to or on the employee’s behalf in connection with the ETDY assignment are taxable income to the employee. Given this, the employee in this case was allowed to file an Income Tax Reimbursement Allowance (ITRA) claim for reimbursement of the additional income taxes he incurred. The added taxes were due to the higher travel funds he received for his extended assignment. The employee was paid a 2010 ITRA payment that equaled $6,324.04 (“Payment #1”). The employee received further ITRA payments in 2011, 2012, and 2013. These totaled $23,297.96 (collectively, “Payment #2”). Following Payment #2, DFAS determined that the employee was underpaid for Payment #1 by $4,650.96, but overpaid for Payment #2 by $8,277.96. Unfortunately, these were not the only payment mistakes found or made. The agency identified additional overpayments shortly thereafter. DFAS added these errors to the previous ones and re-calculated the amount owed by the employee to the government. The new amount equaled $8,525.41 (the “Excess Payments Amount”). Rather than off-setting the underpayment for Payment #1 against the Excess Payments Amount, DFAS compounded the earlier mistakes by disbursing the underpayment amount – $4,650.96 – to the employee. Consequently, rather than reducing the Excess Payments Amount by more than half, the employee remained in debt to the government for the full Excess Payments Amount – $8,525.41. The issue of whether the employee was required to repay the Excess Payments Amount was addressed by the Department of Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). DFAS recommended waiving nearly all of the Excess Payments Amount except for $247.45. However, DOHA disagreed and found that only $3,627 should be waived and that the employee remained obligated to provide restitution of $4,898.41. According to 5 U.S.C. § 5584, DOHA may waive a claim for repayment of erroneously issued funds to an employee if collection of the amount would be: against equity and good conscience and not in the best interests of the United States, provided that there is no evidence of fraud, fault, misrepresentation or lack of good faith on the part of the employee. DOHA...

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ASMC NCR PDI: The Biggest One Yet

Posted by on Mar 24, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

ASMC NCR PDI: The Biggest One Yet

More than 1,500 financial management professionals filled the Atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building on March 10 for the American Society of Military Comptroller’s (ASMC) National Capital Region (NCR) Professional Development Institute (PDI). This was the largest NCR PDI yet and Management Concepts felt it with attendees covering the exhibit area! From Big Data to Shared Services to Audit Success, the sessions covered a variety of topics and many rooms were filled over capacity due to the significant interest in all of these areas. The DoD FM Certification continues to be a big topic in this arena as well. Of particular importance was the transition from attaining the certification to maintaining the certification with continuing education. It was surprising to hear how many attendees were focused on the DoD FM Certification rather than CDFM certification. Also of note was Department of Homeland Security Deputy Under Secretary for Management and Chief Financial Officer Chip Fulghum’s session. Mr. Fulghum feels very strongly that leadership, and being a “Servant Leader,” is critical.  He said “leadership is what raises and lowers the boat in the water.” His four key tenets to leadership are: Right attitude Communication Mentoring Service We certainly support Mr. Fulghum in his efforts to promote the quality and importance of leadership within DHS and throughout the Federal government. Hats off to ASMC for a great PDI in the national capital region. We are looking forward to seeing everyone in Orlando in...

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AGA NLT: The Training Event for Federal Financial Management Leaders

Posted by on Mar 3, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

AGA NLT: The Training Event for Federal Financial Management Leaders

AGA hosted another stellar event at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center last week. The AGA NLT (National Leadership Training) bought hundreds of leaders together from Federal agencies and private sector to discuss shared services, millennials in the workforce, risk management, change management, and a variety of other topics. While OMB Deputy Controller Mark Reger taught us what to do to prepare for the Presidential transition, we also learned the importance of leadership skills such as negotiating, transparency, and continuous improvement. Each day was filled with engaging speakers as well as plenty of time to network and share ideas with fellow event-goers. I was surprised at the variety of event attendees who stopped by the Management Concepts booth. From IT professionals to Accountants to State Comptrollers, it seemed like everyone was enjoying this years’ NLT and looking forward to PDT this summer. I was also thrilled to see the eight students who were part of the Collegiate Leadership Program sponsored by AGA who attended the event. Great way to bring in the millennials, AGA, and show these students how exciting it can be to work in the Federal government! Thanks also to recent Federal Spotlight interviewee Tony Scardino who stopped by AGA last week; see you in Anaheim in July for PDT...

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Where Does Quality Come From?

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Where Does Quality Come From?

What’s the relationship of quality to internal controls? In the workaday world of government, we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on quality. Why don’t we? First of all, most government employees feel like they have more than one job to do. Not enough time to deal with quality issues. Also, most of us take for granted that over time, “those people in charge” have made sure that quality is within standards and that same thing is happening now. But is it? This brings up a few questions: Do standards of quality even exist for the work we are doing? If they do exist, do we know what they are? Even if we know what they are, do they still fit today’s work compared to when they were established. So, what’s all this got to do with internal controls? Simple. Quality cannot happen without good controls…which are our policies and procedures. For example, if our quality goal is to process our replenishment of spare parts for the F-18 fighter jet with 97% error-free transactions, then our internal controls over replenishment must be sound enough to give us that accuracy. This includes clear policies stating that goal and communication of those policies, processes that allow us to reach that goal, people who have the skills to effectively carry out those procedures, AND management and supervisory emphasis on the importance of meeting the goal. ALL of these activities involve internal controls. Another way to look at it is this: the best intentions of management and the most skilled staff cannot produce quality if the processes used are ineffective and inefficient. A fundamental tenet of management is this: If a recent, concerted effort to ensure desired quality has not been implemented, then quality can be improved. Bottom line: In most places, quality can be improved. Quality will only improve through a thorough assessment of policies and procedures, (internal controls) done often, but at a minimum once a...

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Can the Government Violate Existing Policy to Save Money?

Posted by on Jan 27, 2016 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Can the Government Violate Existing Policy to Save Money?

While the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December raised agency spending limits, the increase was modest. As a result, Federal budgets remain tight. “Frugal” and “thrifty” continue to be the spending themes for agencies. Using taxpayer money efficiently is commendable. This is particularly true given the current political environment. What happens, however, when the goal of saving money conflicts with an existing policy? The decision by the General Services Board of Contract Appeals (GSBCA) in Felix Valentin, GSBCA 16621-TRAV provides some insight. According to the Board, saving money does NOT trump all else. In the case, Felix Valentin, an employee of the Department of Labor (DOL), was directed to travel from his permanent duty station in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Harford, Connecticut. Valentin requested his agency’s travel agent to make airline reservations for him. The agent initially identified: A departing flight leaving San Juan at 5:23 p.m. and arriving in Hartford at 9:11 p.m. A returning flight leaving Hartford at 7:05 a.m. and arriving in San Juan at 10:55 a.m. (Collectively, the “First Itinerary”) Valentin refused the arrangement. The agent then identified: A departing flight leaving San Juan at 8:20 a.m. and arriving in Hartford at 5:22 p.m. A returning flight leaving Hartford at 8:22 a.m. and arriving in San Juan at 3:55 p.m. (Collectively, the “Second Itinerary”) Valentin accepted the Second Itinerary and traveled to Hartford in accordance with it. Upon his return, DOL refused to reimburse Valentin the full cost of the Second Itinerary. It determined that the First Itinerary was less expensive. Therefore, reimbursement for his travel would be limited to the cheaper travel option. Valentin appealed to the GSBCA. He argued that he was entitled to the full amount of his travel costs under the Second Itinerary. In support of his claim, Valentin reasoned that DOL policy requires employees to travel during official working hours. He noted that his were during the day, i.e., approximately nine to five. Given this, DOL’s personnel directive overrides its goal to save money. GSBCA agreed. It noted that DOL’s main reason for not reimbursing Valentin the full cost of his airfare was that the lower fares were more advantageous to the government. The Board emphasized that DOL policy provides that travel by employees must be performed during their normal duty hours. GSBCA made clear that the agency could not interpret the requirement to provide that employees must travel during working hours only if doing so would be less expensive. LESSON: Managing a limited budget is a critical skill for government managers, but the goal of saving money is not a trump card agencies can use at their discretion to create exceptions to existing policies. Agree or Disagree? What’s your experience?  ...

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Acquisition and Appropriations Law – Making the Connections

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Acquisition, Financial Management | 0 comments

Acquisition and Appropriations Law – Making the Connections

There are many intersections between the two disciplines of Acquisition and Appropriations Law. Federal Acquisition managers more and more must have a fundamental working knowledge of Appropriations Law. Let’s review one of those important areas of connection: applying the Bona Fide Needs Rule with associated scope changes in a contract modification. Contracting officers must certainly be familiar with the Bona Fide Needs Rule/Law (31 USC 1502) to ensure proper year fund use. This seminal doctrine within the body of Appropriations Law states in simple terms that current year funds must be used/obligated for current year contracted needs. Program and financial officials often work closely with acquisition professionals to determine which fiscal year funds should be used with a purchase request particularly on matters related to bona fide need determinations. When Federal acquisition and financial managers are making contract scope change determinations under the Bona Fide Needs Rule, the proper fiscal year funding source is particularly important and sometimes complex. If incorrect year or source funds are used an Antideficiency Act violation may occur. Many agency Financial Management Regulations (FMRs) – including the voluminous DoD FMRs – stipulate the contracting officer is primarily responsible for determining whether a contract modification is within the scope of a contract. In making such a determination, a contracting officer must be guided by appropriate provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the appropriate agency FAR Supplement, legal principles applicable to scope changes, and the provisions of agency financial management regulations. If a contract modification is determined to be outside the scope of the original contract (primarily changes in quantity, cost, or time period of the original contract) then current year funds must be used in accordance with the Bona Fide Needs Rule. If a scope change is not involved, such as properly invoking the contract changes clause, then original year funds (which may now be in an expired status) may be properly used. Again there are many intersections between the disciplines of acquisition and Appropriations Law. What other areas do you particularly see and deal with? We will cover those suggested and other related areas of these two disciplines in future blogs....

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Fraud and the Role of Internal Controls

Posted by on Dec 11, 2015 in Financial Management | 1 comment

Fraud and the Role of Internal Controls

Fraud is defined as “perversion of truth” or “false representation of fact” where the government is a victim. Obviously the fraudster hopes to gain at the expense of the government. Most fraudulent activity in the Federal government does not make national news or the front page of the Washington Post. Therefore, we are not aware of most of it. If you read the semi-annual reports of the Federal inspectors general, however, you can start to get a sense of the magnitude of fraud. It is not small. One notable case at NASA involved a large batch of bolts and fasteners that had been sold as scrap by NASA when they did not meet quality standards. Enter the fraudsters: an enterprising couple bought the scrap, and then turned around and sold it back to NASA by falsifying quality test results on the items. At the couples’ new “residence” they were able to contemplate their shrewd business deal (residence provided free of charge, courtesy of the Federal prison system!). How Do We Prevent Fraud in the Federal Government? There is only one way: with properly designed and operating internal control systems. Everything an entity does happens through its internal control systems, basically its policies and procedures, including those checks and balances built into our automated systems. Some controls are preventive – like matching of purchase card requests against “Do Not Buy” lists. And some controls are detective – like reviews of purchase card statements after purchases to determine if purchases were legitimate. Do We Have the Proper Balance of Preventive and Detective Controls? Some Federal managers believe we do not – and that the ratio might be 7 to 3, detective to preventive. That ratio should be flip-flopped: 70% preventive and 30% detective. We should put more effort into designing and implementing controls to prevent fraud than into those that just catch it after the fact. How Do We Ensure That We Have the Proper Controls in Place to Prevent – and Catch – Fraud? The best way is to raise the consciousness about controls of all types in our Federal agencies. This can best be done as a part of the legally mandated annual assessment of internal control that culminates in a statement of assurance on internal control by the head of the agency to the president and the Congress. Fraud will never go away and all of it cannot be prevented. The Federal government is too big and complex to expect there will be no fraud. But every agency and every employee can mitigate fraud occurrences and impacts. In fact, they have a responsibility to do so. Employees at ALL LEVELS need to be educated and trained in all aspects of internal control, but especially where there is a risk of fraud.    ...

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The “ABC’s” of Economy Act Intergovernmental Transactions

Posted by on Oct 16, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Intragovernmental Transactions (reimbursable transactions) abound in the Federal government today. But what is the primary law that allows one agency to do work for another and collect reimbursement fees? You guessed it, the Economy Act (EA)! A basic understanding of the EA by resource officials is critical to spending and accepting reimbursable funds properly. This 1932 based law was initially intended to help expand government work and fight our way out of the Great Depression. The authority found in 31 USC 1535 specifies four conditions most notably the providing agency must be able to provide the goods or services and also there be lower overall cost to the government. The Economy Act was never intended to replace normal contracting with the private sector. As in any government transaction, proper documenting of each condition is important for many reasons including satisfying the auditors! The Economy Act covers all branches of government and virtually all Federal-to-Federal transactions. It also is used and common when personnel are detailed, or loaned, from one agency to another. According to the GAO Principles of Appropriations Law, two components, bureaus, or offices within the same department may engage in Economy Act dealings but must be funded from separate appropriations. GAO has ruled it does not apply to separate appropriations of a single bureau or office. Payments are credited to the correct appropriation and year against which charges were made to fill the order. Costs reimbursed must only cover actual costs incurred by the performing agency, but what does that really mean? Charging too much or too little would augment either the ordering or providers appropriation. To determine actual costs GAO says direct costs are obviously the place to begin. Indirect costs that can be proportionately ascribed to a transaction are also allowed. Depreciation is normally not recoverable nor are general and administrative costs such as security or maintenance expenses which would be paid by the performing entity regardless. The Act does not require precision in the actual cost determination as long as a reasonable method of allocation of costs is used. It is important to note the bona fide needs rule applies to EA orders. If it did not agencies could extend the obligational life of their appropriation. To ensure this practice did not take root Congress soon enacted another provision to the original law which created the “deobligation” provision of the EA. Basically this means if the performing agency is using in-house resources to accomplish the work, it must finish the work before the ordering agency’s funds expire. Any unfinished work must be deobligated by the ordering agency rendering these funds “unusable” when they expire. Similarly, if the performing agency is using a contract to get the work done it must award that contract prior to expiration of the customers funds. Reimbursable work performed under other authorities follows the same rules as with commercial firms and does not include this EA deobligation twist. Questions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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Paying for Non-Federal Travel

Posted by on Oct 13, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Paying for Non-Federal Travel

Can appropriated funds ever be used to pay travel expenses for a non-Federal person? Don lives and works in Houston for NASA. He was recently notified that he will receive NASA’s “Top Employee” award at NASA headquarters in Washington and wants his wife to accompany him. Can NASA pay for Don’s wife’s travel expenses to accompany him? We can go straight to the Red Book which has the answer to everything…at least everything pertaining to the use of appropriated funds! Here’s what we’d find: “Normally the Federal government will NOT pay for a non-Federal person to travel. In this case, however, there is an exception. It has long been acceptable practice that someone, like a close family member, can accompany a Federal employee to an agency annual incentive award ceremony. Note that this does not apply to just any award ceremony an office may hold. It is typically the big, agency-wide one held once a year and one that has outside guests attend.” Therefore Don’s wife may have her travel expenses paid when she accompanies him to the awards ceremony in Washington (saves Don and his wife some money!). There are a few other exceptions: Someone who is invited in to the agency to give a speech A person providing a direct service to the government in a non-paid status (like an advisory board member) A job prospect traveling for an interview Helpers for disabled Federal employees Keep in mind that in these instances of paying for non-Federal people to travel – as in all expenditures of appropriated funds – the Government MUST receive the primary benefit of the expenditure. These rules and exceptions can be found in the Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (commonly referred to as “The Red Book), published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Volume I, Chapter 4 “Purpose.” Do you have questions on the Red Book? Send in your comments below or investigate our Appropriations Law training....

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To Shutdown or Not

Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 in Financial Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

To Shutdown or Not

It’s seven days until a partial shutdown of the U.S. government could occur. If Congress does not pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) or 12 appropriation bills, or the President vetoes legislation sent to him, then we could have a funding gap, something that has happened 18 times since Congress changed the fiscal year to a start date of October 1 in 1977. We all know why this happened. The gap will start in Guam, “where America’s day starts,” 14 hours ahead of Washington time. So, by 10:00 a.m. on September 30, hopefully we know. A gap will impact more than two million government employees, with possibly one million being sent home and furloughed. No promise of pay when they return. A funding gap can occur in one of two ways. Either Congress does not pass 12 bills or a CR to send to the President, or they do pass bills and send to the president, but he vetoes. What can you do during a funding gap that does not violate the Antideficiency Act (ADA)? Agencies mostly continue their core missions. National security activities continue. Agencies support deployments and wars. Intelligence gathering continues, like satellite operations. No-year and multi-year contracts continue. The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 (FASA), as it relates to severable services contracts, continues. Non-severable contracts continue, and much, much more. Revolving fund activities, like working capital fund activities, continue as long as they have a checking account balance in their cash corpus. And, 31 USC 1342 permits activities essential to protection of life and property to continue. Prior to October 1 of odd numbered years, agencies determine what activities continue and what activities are suspended under a funding gap. OMB reviewed those plans and had a meeting with agencies late Monday. For more info on the rules associated with a potential funding gap, consult OMB Circular A-11, Section 124, Attorney General opinions in 1980 and 1981, Office of Legal Counsel opinion in 1995, and your agency plan. Here’s to hoping for a CR on October...

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FY End Spending – a Webinar Recap

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Financial Management | 2 comments

FY End Spending – a Webinar Recap

On August 19 Management Concepts conducted a one-hour webinar entitled It’s About Time: Appropriations Law and Year-End Spending Webinar. More than 300 attendees joined us to understand key appropriations law time factors particularly as we approach the end of the fiscal year. Many related topics were covered but three stood out: recognizing legitimate year-end spending, understanding how to charge the correct fiscal year in accordance with the Bona Fide Needs rule and finally, what steps to take if the wrong FY is selected including related Antideficiency Act implications. I saw seven key takeaways, each related to one or more these three topics. They include: The Bona Fide Needs Rule (BFN) is one of the fundamental principles of Appropriations Law. It basically states an agency must charge current program needs to current FY appropriations. We covered three key exceptions to the BFN premise. They all involved situations where current year needs may be delivered in a subsequent FY. These allowed exceptions are: Ordering items that require a long lead time. An example shared involved ordering a hard to find part for preventative maintenance on an HVAC unit. If the work is to be performed on 15 October we might need to order the part by the end of September (and charge those funds) to allow for fabrication and shipment of the part in order to have it in time for the 15 October maintenance. Restocking supplies to normal inventory levels at year end. If we normally stock 50 black toner cartridges for the copiers in the building and note on 20 September we only have 20 in stock then 30 more may be ordered. We order them with FY15 dollars even though the cartridges will not be actually used until FY16. Registering for training that will actually take place in the following year. A few conditions were noted. Severable and non-severable services were covered and the differences explained. Proper obligation practices were also described for each. Basically, we learned severable services are for recurring personnel level of effort services such as routine copier maintenance, periodic landscaping, or cleaning services. Contracts covering those types of services are limited in their period of performance to 12 months but may cross FY lines. Non-severable services on the other hand can extend longer than 12 months but must result in a single or “entire” deliverable. This might be for something like a software project delivery or a publishable report. We learned these type of contracts cannot be incrementally funded but rather must be funded entirely with current year funds at the time of contract award in accordance with the BFN rule. Obligation principles related to the BFN rule were explained. One important note is recording evidences the obligation but does not create it! If a given transaction is not sufficient to constitute a valid obligation, simply recording it will not make it one! Conversely, failing to record a valid obligation in no way diminishes its validity or affects the fiscal year to which it is properly chargeable. So if we enter into a proper contract on 30 September but do not record the obligation until 7 October the obligation must be recorded against FY15 (September) funds. Another key takeaway related to charging the wrong appropriation due to improper time or purpose infractions. If the...

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Integrating Internal Controls with Best Practices

Posted by on Aug 28, 2015 in Financial Management, Project Management | 2 comments

In my previous blogs I talked about the different components that comprise the organizational environment where best practices can survive and thrive and the necessary role that leaders play in ensuring best practices are understood and followed through proper governance. In this blog I’ll address how the organization’s internal control program can ensure best practices become a vital part of the culture and management fabric in an organization. Internal control has a rocky history in the Federal government. I can remember when it was referred to as the “internal review” program and was the sole responsibility of the Comptroller or financial manager in the military organization. I had a staff that spread out through the military command to ensure all our assets (financial and property assets) were protected from fraud, waste, and abuse.  We were supposed to verify those protections were written, understood, and followed to prevent loss of resources for our military mission. In those days these internal reviewers were considered a disruption to the normal operational tempo and were met with reluctant cooperation. The people performing these reviews were mostly junior folks with no real idea how to conduct the review other than following a checklist and their own intuition. Invariably the reports were focused on compliance with various laws and regulations and not the effectiveness of actual practices in meeting mission requirements. Over the years it has matured into what OMB hopes is a vital part of managing all agencies in the Executive Branch. In 2004 major changes were made to OMB’s Circular A-123 (update coming soon!) to make Federal managers and employees more accountable. Its name was changed to Management’s Responsibility for Internal Control and it clearly tasked “key business process owners” to step up their game with respect to non-financial processes and procedures in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness and reporting of material weaknesses. We all know that funding is the lifeblood of agency operations and most actions have a financial consequence of some type, be it major acquisition or the payroll of those civil servants performing them. But A-123 isn’t just about financial reporting, its also about ensuring accountability of Federal management. In the aftermath of The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), the A-123 revision does incorporate many components of SOX in detailing how Federal agencies use internal controls to ensure financial reports have a “clean audit opinion.” But there is another aspect to internal controls that has everything to do with how effective and efficient an agency’s operational processes are designed, managed, and executed. You may have heard of GAO’s “Yellow Book” that describes auditing standards, or GAO’s “Red Book” that details proper application of Appropriations Law. But, have you heard of GAO’s “Green Book?” This is a must read for any Federal supervisor, manager, executive, or employee for that matter. The Green Book details the standards for internal control systems agencies are required to follow. Its purpose is focused on achieving an agency’s objectives effectively and efficiently. These objectives could be about operations, reporting or compliance. As Figure 2 shows, the standards are composed of five components: Establishing a proper control environment Insightful assessment of risks, Establishing the policies and procedures whereby the agency will achieve its objectives Ensuring quality information is communicated to managers and personnel Effective monitoring of...

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What’s the RISK in Ignoring RISK?

Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

What’s the RISK in Ignoring RISK?

Everybody knows what risk is: The possibility that something can go wrong. But the question is this: How often do we consider risk in the Federal workplace? Now if you work in the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security, you think about risk a lot, BUT mainly at the mission level…because those agencies are all about dealing with the risk to our national security. But what about the risks that exist in our week-in and week-out operations? In our day-to-day work? “Wait!” many people say. “I don’t have any risks in my day to day work.” Well, while we don’t necessarily want to go through each day worrying about each step we take, it is incumbent on us as Federal employees to be aware of the obstacles to mission accomplishment. And not just mission accomplishment, BUT effective and efficient mission accomplishment. Most likely you yourself can think of ways your organization could do its work better: To save time or money. To reach goals faster. To do higher quality work. Many challenges to doing things better can be seen as risks: the risk that resources are being wasted – ones that could be put to better use; the risk that people don’t stay focused on the end result; the risk that people don’t know the rules (like appropriations laws and rules). Risks like those just listed can really trip up an organization. And cause it to be seen as not efficient or even not effective. In today’s climate of further threatened budget cuts and more scrutiny by the public, organizations that are viewed as managing well are likely to fare better than those who have a poor management reputation. The good news is that the process for annually assessing an agency’s internal control – including doing risk assessments – can help an agency identify all its risks and take steps to mitigate them. The law and OMB Circular A-123 (update pending) require agency heads to annually assess and report to the president and the Congress on the status of their internal control. Such assessments are to be done by all managers throughout an agency. To aid in that assessment, GAO publishes criteria in the form of the Internal Control Standards, one of which is about risk assessment. To the extent that an agency follows the process, and uses the internal control standards, it will be reasonably assured that it has identified its risks and addressed them. Keep this in mind: because of the fast pace of changes in the Federal workplace, there is NO system, process, or procedure that cannot be improved. And all that change constantly presents risks to doing effective and efficient work. All it takes is (a) being more conscious of risk, (b) some knowledge and training about how to perform a proper risk assessment; and (c) taking appropriate corrective actions to address risk. Now, get out there and start identifying those risks where you...

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AGA Rocked Music City at PDT 2015

Posted by on Jul 22, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

AGA Rocked Music City at PDT 2015

I had the privilege of attending the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) Professional Development Training (PDT) in Nashville last week and returned with great information and feedback to help Management Concepts meet the developing needs of the Financial Management (FM) community. I kicked PDT off by attending the Executive Session titled “Enabling a High-Quality FM Workforce for the 21st Century and Beyond.” After listening to a panel of experts we broke off into a very interactive session discussing ideas for talent development and retention. In fact, the interactivity at PDT this year really made the event come to life. Through the AGA PDT mobile app, we were able to ask questions during sessions, vote for the questions you really wanted answered, and respond to real-time polls from the speakers. AGA encouraged even more collaboration with participants through the “Meet Your Match” game where attendees were given a button with a number and could win prizes by finding matching numbers throughout the four days in Nashville. Kudos to AGA for making this such a valuable experience! I attended a variety of sessions from human capital planning to DoD auditability and feel each experience matched the right expert panel with the content to provide the group with new and interesting data. Some key takeaways include: The workplace of the future will require continuous learners who are not only experts in their financial area, but also strong leaders – flexible, and can support cross-matrixed job functions. IT and analytics competencies will be core in the future workforce and need to be developed now so we are able to meet the demands of CFO organizations’ changing role. Millennials want to make a difference with their careers and it is important to communicate how a role is critical in the agency’s mission in order to retain the younger workforce. A government job can be cool! DoD audit readiness is focusing on sustainability rather than meeting audit deadlines. According to Karen Fenstermacher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Operations), “worse than not being able to achieve auditability is to achieve auditability and not sustain it.” I learned many things throughout the time in Nashville…even how to get to the conference center from my room through the enormous Gaylord Opryland Hotel! I’d suggest attending next year’s event to see for yourself the great value of the exhibit hall, networking receptions, and sessions. See you next year in...

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ASMC PDI Recap: Hot Topics

Posted by on Jun 9, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

ASMC PDI Recap: Hot Topics

We recently attended the American Society of Military Comptroller (ASMC) Professional Development Institute (PDI) in New Orleans where we hosted a booth as well as had several of our instructors deliver mini-courses and workshops. This year’s event was kicked off with a Welcome Reception at the WWII Museum and showcased Tom Hanks’ film production of “Beyond All Boundaries.” The reception was a fantastic way to bring all attendees together and honor our veterans. The general focus of the event was the DoD FM Certification Program. Tracy Gifford, DFMCP3, FM Certification Program and Glenda Scheiner, DFMCP3, CDFM-A, Director, Human Capital and Resource Management, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) both gave very informative presentations on course alignment and Supervisor and Component Certification Authority (CCA), respectively. The DoD FM Certification Program is well underway and is making progress, slowly but surely! All 53,000 estimated Financial Managers in DoD fall under the program yet only a little more than 3,000 have attained the appropriate certification level for their respective jobs after one year. Our instructors delivered five separate sessions over the three-day event: Rick Hurley, CDFM-A, presented a session on cost-benefit analysis and how it is used to support decision-making in the organization, thereby increasing public welfare and improving efficiency. Robert Black presented on Internal Controls, helping participants reduce the risk of waste, fraud, and mismanagement within their agency, and support accountability efforts. Phil Davidson presented 12 types of Antideficiency Act (ADA) violations and discussed which ones are automatic and which ones may be correctable. Key takeaways from other sessions at the event included: Dr. Jamie Morin, Director of DoD Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), spoke of the latest ways they are improving reliability and access to good data for cost estimates, critical to any cost analysis or Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA). The new Cost Assessment Data Enterprise (CADE) database tool is an OSD CAPE initiative with the goal to increase analyst productivity and effectiveness by collecting, organizing, and displaying data in an integrated single web-based application. CADE provides the government analyst new authoritative source data which is easily searchable and retrievable. CADE will increase analyst productivity and effectiveness while improving data quality, reporting compliance, and source data transparency. CADE offers the analyst a reduction in the time spent on ad-hoc data collection and validation, allowing more time for in-depth, meaningful analysis in support of DoD’s mission. Steve Barth, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (DASA) for Cost and Economics (C&E), gave two workshops covering Decision Support and FM Analysis and highlighted the following: DASA (C&E) does about 150 independent CBA for the Army each year. Since formed in 2009, they have performed almost 1,000. Army now requires CBA on any program which grows $10 million or more in a budget year or $50M over the budget year and four years following. CBA training provided by DASA (C&E) is ramping-up across Army bases nationwide at the many program offices and support installations The size, scope, and rigor of the CBA varies depending on the magnitude of the proposed comparative analysis.  The Army Cost Benefit Analysis Guide is used now throughout DOD for most CBAs.  All eight steps in the Army CBA model are used, but not necessarily in order. MG Thomas Horlander, DASA for Army Budget delivered an Army...

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Guide to the Green Book

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Guide to the Green Book

“Hey! Let’s talk about how to get those reports out more timely. You need to make some procedural adjustments.” That’s management talking. That’s management holding someone accountable. That’s management doing what it’s supposed to be doing, according to the Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government – aka the “Green Book.” Among the many things managers are responsible for; they “should evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.”(Control Environment standard, Principle #5 in the Green Book.) In the directive statements of the manager they are addressing a subordinate about improving internal controls (procedural adjustments) in order to better meet a goal: timely reporting. Managers, supervisors, and all staff are responsible for ensuring that work procedures and processes are as effective and efficient as they can be. Yet many managers – perhaps all of us – get too focused on the mission and meeting performance goals. We overlook the importance of our processes and procedures (our controls). We neglect the ongoing maintenance that is required to keep our operations humming…and to keep us out of trouble. You know, trouble like missing a performance goal, being wasteful, or not adhering to a law or regulation. How do we get and keep that focus on internal control? First, by educating ourselves about the significance of internal control in our day-to-day work, then by consulting the Green Book on the numerous aspects of good management and proven ways to implement excellent policies and procedures. The five internal control standards, the nineteen principles, and the numerous attributes explaining the principles cover everything a manager needs to know. The Green Book…DON’T TRY TO MANAGE WITHOUT IT! Robert is blogging live from the American Society of Military Comptrollers (ASMC) Professional Development Institute (PDI) 2015 in New Orleans,...

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GAO Appropriations Law Forum 2015 Recap

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 in Financial Management | 0 comments

GAO Appropriations Law Forum 2015 Recap

GAO held its Annual Appropriations Law Forum on March 12, 2015 to coincide with the publication of the annual update of the third edition of Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (Red Book). The session for invited agency fiscal lawyers only included an overview of what it considered significant decisions issued in 2014, with panel discussions on donations, gifts, and free services; and an important legal opinion regarding the obligation of military bonuses. The electronic update, as you may recall, is a cumulative effort of changes encompassing now 215 pages (Seven additional pages from last year.) Probably the most intriguing and impactful appropriations law decision (referenced above) of the 12 issued this past year responded to a Congressional request regarding obligation timing of bonuses under military service agreements. The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee wanted to know about the obligational practice for certain recruiting and retention bonuses. DoD components offer these bonuses in various agreements with individuals in exchange for terms of military service. DoD generally pays the bonuses in installments over a number of years and obligates them at the same time. DoD offers these bonuses to individuals via a written agreement. For example, DoD offers retention bonuses to certain medical officers. The medical officer agrees to “remain on active duty in the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) Medical Corps (MC) for a minimum of one, two, three, or four consecutive years” and to “possess a current and valid license . . . for the duration of the contract.” In exchange, the medical officer receives a defined bonus “paid annually upon execution of this contract and its subsequent anniversary dates as applicable and specified in the current pay plan.” At issue here is DoD does not record an obligation when the agreement is executed. Rather, DoD records an obligation for the initial installment and subsequent installments in the months they become payable to the service member. DoD’s obligational practice, GAO said fails to recognize that when DoD enters into the agreement, it has taken an action that can mature into a legal liability if the service member upholds his or her end of the agreement. DoD has entered into an agreement to incentivize an individual to accept a time commitment. DoD therefore has accepted a fiscal liability, which is fully payable should the service member satisfy the time commitment. In GAO’s view, because DoD has ceded control of its fiscal exposure to the service member, DoD incurs an obligation for the bonus at the time it signs the agreement. In conclusion, an agency should record its total obligation against funds available at the time the agreement is executed. If the amount of the obligation is outside of the control of the government, then the government should obligate funds to cover the maximum amount of its liability. Under the recording statute and the Antideficiency Act, DoD must record an obligation reflecting the full bonus amount when it executes these military service agreements. GAO added DoD should change its obligational practices in accordance with these requirements and update its financial management regulations. What will be interesting is to see how long it takes and if DoD complies with this ruling. As you know, DoD by its own Financial Management Regulations believes it can make its own advance decisions with regard...

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Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Each January, we all make resolutions with varying degrees of sincerity and dedication. As we get further and further from New Year celebrations, life has a way of creeping in. Achieving lifestyle changes is not solely about exercise or dieting; it should also be about improving your professional competence and positioning yourself and/or your staff for future success. This year, why not try a different resolution? Are you an individual trying to manage your career? Resolve to focus on your career. Ask for the stretch assignment. Explore mentorship opportunities. Challenge yourself to hone current skills or learn new ones. Go for that promotion. Ask for training and professional development. Be ambitious! Get out of whatever rut you may find yourself and commit to creating and fostering a personal path to career success and an environment of learning and advancement. Perhaps you are more seasoned, and at a more advanced place in your career development. Why not investigate a certificate program; successful completion can demonstrate your knowledge and dedication.  Another possibility is getting a leadership coach or mentor.  If you’re lucky, your organization may have a formal mentorship program, but you can do it informally too.  Ask for over-the-shoulder coaching, stretch assignments, or simply discussing your career aspirations with a trusted co-workers can also make a huge difference. Are you a supervisor?  Maybe your resolution is to bolster the skillset of your direct reports.  I’m sure someone took an interest in your development—pay it forward. As the President’s FY15 Budget noted, steps are in place to “restore cuts to Federal employee training to help train, retain, and recruit a skilled and effective Federal workforce, targeting investments in employee training to common, but high-impact areas such as customer service or information technology.” This statement announces a hopeful and positive change, a return to the time-proven practice of investing in people.  Feds are again able to focus on seeking the learning and development that keeps them – and their staffs – efficient, productive, up-to-date, and effective. Career development for your personnel will enhance productivity and morale.  Smart investments in quality learning solutions will help deter the loss of high-performing Federal employees to the private sector. Identify the stepping stones that will take you – and your staff – to the next level. Recognize and reward your dedicated employees and groom them for future success in positions of greater responsibility. Don’t wait for your staff to ask for training. Identify the development opportunities that will lead them to successful performance. As a professional development and performance improvement company, clearly we value formal training. It is important to remember, however, that remaining professionally competitive doesn’t necessarily entail only classroom training. Career development is a broad mix of mentorship, coaching, challenging work assignments, support, industry association, and professional certifications that together enhance the skillsets of Federal employees. Abraham Lincoln once said “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” Don’t leave your career or the development of your staff to chance.  Positive developments result from intentional steps toward a goal. I love to hear stories about a team finishing a challenging project or a student getting promoted.  We succeed when you succeed because we are dedicated to unleashing the potential of people, teams, and organizations.  Now, what is your resolution? Tom Dungan,...

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Does Anyone Look at Those End-of-Course Evaluations Anyway?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

When you complete an evaluation, do you ever wonder if anyone actually looks at your responses? Do companies take your feedback seriously and make changes based on what you have to say? If they are asking for your feedback, they should review it and take action when warranted. Anyone who has taken one of Management Concepts training courses knows there will be an end-of-course evaluation to complete. Why? It’s good practice to collect students’ feedback on courses they’ve just taken. We collect feedback about the learning experience including the quality and usefulness of the course materials, the instructor’s facilitation skills, and the extent to which the facilities were an appropriate learning environment. In addition to getting feedback on various aspects of their experience, the end-of-course evaluation serves another purpose. We can collect information such as: How confident students are that they can apply what they learned back on the job The degree to which the training will improve their job performance The degree to which the training was a worthwhile investment in their career development In case you’ve wondered if anyone at Management Concepts actually looks at your completed evaluations, the answer is yes. Actually, lots of people at Management Concepts read the evaluations and it drives much of the work we do to create professional development programs. Of course we love hearing about positive student experiences, but we also need to hear about the negative ones. How else can we improve? We use both the quantitative and qualitative feedback you provide to make informed decisions about possible improvements. Here is a sampling of how different stakeholder groups within our organization use your feedback to improve your learning experience: Instructional Designers who create the courses and are always looking for ways to improve the experience Instructors/Facilitators who look for ways to improve their delivery and teaching approach Resourcing Staff who schedule the instructors/facilitators and want to ensure the best delivery of each course Logistics Staff who coordinate the course delivery and  want to ensure the course materials are complete and where they need to be when they are needed Learning Technologists who produce online courses and materials and are looking for ways to improve the online learning experience Facilities Staff who want to ensure a clean and inviting environment Customer Service Staff who help students with registering for courses and want to ensure a positive experience Administrators who review the data to ensure we are in compliance with Continuing Education requirements Executives who oversee all these areas and use the information in short- and long-term planning and want to ensure we meet needs and exceed expectations All of these groups work together to ensure your learning experience is valuable and enjoyable. Your responses help us know when to update courses, what new courses are needed, which instructors are most effective, which technologies add the most value, and what types of learning environments are most effective. So, next time you are asked to complete an end-of-course evaluation, make sure you do. We want to hear from...

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Are Executive Agencies Always Bound by Comptroller General (GAO) Appropriation Law Decisions?

Posted by on Nov 6, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Well that may just depend on who you ask! GAO certainly thinks they are. The Management Concepts Press Appropriations Law Answer Book addresses this conflict beginning with a quote from the GAO Red Book (Principles of Federal Appropriations Law):  “A decision regarding an account of the government is binding on the executive branch and the Comptroller General himself.” The Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) disagrees that GAO decisions are binding on executive agencies. That office has a longstanding precedent that GAO’s decisions are not binding on the Executive Branch. In a 2009 memorandum, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General referenced several previous memoranda on OLC decisions on the subject. Among the quotations are the following: The Comptroller General is an officer of the Legislative Branch. Because GAO is part of the Legislative Branch agencies are not bound by GAO’s legal advice. Although the opinions and legal interpretations of the GAO often provide helpful guidance on appropriations matters and related issues, they are not binding upon departments, agencies, or officers of the executive branch. The Office of Legal Counsel considers GAO’s assertion that its decisions are binding on the executive branch to be an infringement on the constitutional separation of the executive and legislative branches. So what is an agency head or certifying officer to do if GAO and OLC disagree? What opinion do they go with? Fortunately, GAO and OLC are in agreement most of the time. In fact, OLC often seeks or references GAO’s opinions. However, when OLC specifically disagrees with GAO and issues its own decision, agency heads need to remember whom they work for: the executive branch. Certifying officers are in a more precarious position. GAO grants or denies relief of liability for all certifying officers, except for the armed forces. Therefore, the safest course of action for such non-armed forces certifying officers is to follow GAO guidance while trying to avoid trouble in their own agency. Remember the GAO has no power to enforce decisions but does have the ear of Congress. Agency officials who act contrary to comptroller general decisions might have to respond to congressional appropriations and program oversight committees. They might be forced into new Congressional reporting requirements or clarifying legislation reiterating GAO’s position on the matter.  Once again, remember GAO is a part of the Legislative Branch and helps in the oversight role Congress exercises quite firmly. Certainly agencies that disregard GAO, appropriations committees, and oversight committees do so at their own peril. The power of the purse is a mighty weapon that Congress is not reluctant to...

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Agency Managers Get Needed Tool – a New Green Book

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

How can a green book help managers? Managers are required by law to assess their internal control each year, and they need a guide in doing that.  “The Green Book” (formal title: Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government) is such a guide. This guide is developed and published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The new edition came out in September 2014, and is the first new edition since 1999. After managers complete their internal control assessments, their agency heads must report to the President and the Congress annually on their internal control. That report is a big deal. In support of that report, managers at all levels need to ensure that all internal controls — including plans, policies, procedures — are rigorously reviewed for effectiveness and efficiency.  The Green Book provides criteria to help managers perform those reviews. How does it work?  Let’s examine an actual requirement from the standards: “Management should establish an organizational structure, assign responsibility, and delegate authority to achieve the entity’s objectives.”  The previous version of the Green Book stopped at this level of guidance. The latest version is more detailed, and is more helpful. For example, the new Green Book adds specificity to the above requirement: Management periodically evaluates the organizational structure so that it meets the entity’s objectives and has adapted to any new objectives for the entity, such as a new law or regulation. Management assigns responsibilities to key roles, and those in key roles can further assign responsibilities below them, but key roles retain ownership for fulfilling the overall responsibilities. This new degree of specificity can facilitate both the design and review of internal control at any level. The added specificity is evidenced by the addition to the five standards (which stay basically the same) of 17 principles (each standard has two or more principles) and 47 attributes (each principle has two or more of these characteristics). Therefore, not only is this new Green Book (available on GAO’s website) a necessary tool for performing the required annual assessment, it can be used by any manager at any level and by any Federal employee involved in improving processes and procedures at...

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How to Make Training “Stick”

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As summer is ending and kids are going back to school, I was thinking about ways to get the most out of learning. While there are many reasons for attending a training class, most of us take training to meet a certification requirement, or because we need to improve/expand our skills. Just like we tell our kids to do in school, we know that during training, it’s important to take good notes, interact positively with our instructor and classmates, and pay attention to the lessons that are covered. Doing these things will get you through the course just fine. But, to make sure you get the most out of your learning opportunity, there are three easy things you can do before, during, and after training to make sure it “sticks.” Before – Take time to prepare. In addition to having your supervisor approve your training request, you should also spend a few minutes talking to your supervisor about why you need to attend the training. Specifically, review the course objectives with your supervisor and make plans for how you will apply the training once back on the job. If you have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), then the training you are planning to take should be linked directly to a topic or skill on your IDP.If there are specific questions you or supervisor have about the topic or skill, or areas you are struggling with, make a list to share with the instructor. Good instructors will start the class by asking you what you hope to get out of the training. Then, they’ll know which areas to emphasize and which areas will have most meaning for the students. Your instructor and fellow classmates have a wealth of knowledge and varied experiences, and most instructors welcome the opportunity for questions and debate during class! During – Create an action plan. We all know you either “use it or lose it.” Some training courses end with having students develop an action plan. The purpose of this, of course, is to document ways in which you will apply what you learned on the job. This is an important step in helping training “stick.”Mastering the skills you learned in training will take time and practice. Be sure to complete the action plan with things you want to remember and/or apply back on the job. Set goals for yourself and identify a strategy for achieving those goals. Even if you aren’t working on a current project that relates to the training, find a way to get involved with one. Maybe you can take on a small assignment or join a project team at work. Alternatively, maybe there’s a way to practice what you’ve learned in your personal life – plan a party to practice your project management skills, volunteer at your kids’ school, or get involved in a professional or community group to practice your leadership skills. After – Reinforce what you learned. Once you have completed your action plan and left the training facility, it can be easy to get caught up in other priorities, deadlines, and fire drills at work. But, this is the time to put what you learned into action. Here are a few easy tips: Keep your action plan in a place that you can see everyday Create job...

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How Do I Value My Assets? Understanding Federal Financial Accounting Technical Release #15

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Accumulating costs for the purposes of properly capitalizing assets can be very challenging for agencies with large complex acquisitions. For agencies like DoD and NASA, asset capitalization can be especially difficult.  In fact, appropriately valuing assets is one of the most significant challenges to audit readiness.  The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board’s (FASAB) most recent Technical Release addresses this issue directly. The Federal Financial Accounting Technical Release #15:  Implementation Guidance for General Property, Plant, and Equipment Cost Accumulation, Assignment, and Allocation supports compliance with the Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards 6 (SFFAS 6), Accounting for Property, Plant, and Equipment and outlines the recognition requirements for general property, plant, and equipment (G-PP&E) except for internal use software. Paragraph 26 in the SFFAS 6 states: “All general PP&E shall be recorded at cost. Cost shall include all costs incurred to bring the PP&E to a form and location suitable for its intended use.” Technical Release #15 focuses primarily on the implementation guidance as it relates to: a) Recognition requirements for total costs (i.e., programmatic, managerial, administrative, and other elements of program costs)  incurred during the G-PP&E lifecycle, decisions regarding the granularity of cost information, and acceptable methods for recognizing those costs (i.e., capital costs captured on the Balance Sheet or period expense costs captured on the Statement of Net Costs [SNC]) b) The concept of a cost accumulation and allocation decision framework (i.e., acceptable methods of accumulating, assigning, and reporting cost data) c) Management’s role in applying the cost accumulation, assignment, and allocation decision framework Appendix C, The Decision Framework, is an especially useful tool that provides managers practical, easy to use guidance.  SFFAS 6 and 4 are great references to better understand the context of Technical Release...

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How Other Professional Certifications Play into the DoD FM Certification Requirements

Posted by on Aug 28, 2014 in Financial Management | 1 comment

The DoD Financial Management (FM) Certification is different than other certifications you may be familiar with because it is course-based rather than test-based. It is also based on established DoD FM and leadership competencies. Competencies are defined knowledge and behaviors that the DoD wants to see exhibited by its FM workforce. In other words, to get the job done, the DoD FM workforce has to know certain things and be able to act in certain ways.  The DoD FM Certification requires training on those needed competencies. What does this mean for you? There are courses created by DoD, as well as commercial offerings, that have been mapped to the FM competencies and count toward your certification. For example, an eight hour course will have been mapped to eight hours of training at one or more of the DoD FM Competencies. You will need to collect these hours of training to meet the certification requirements. There is no test you will have to pass to achieve Level 1, 2, or 3 – only specific courses that map to and cover all of the competencies required for your job classification. Experience requirements and Continuing Education and Training (CET) are also required to meet and maintain your certification, but you will not have to cram for a final exam every two years! You may be wondering if other certifications such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM), or Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) will count towards your certification.  The DoD FM Certification program seems to be encouraging formal education (i.e., college degrees) and FM test-based certifications such as those mentioned above, but the certifications do not directly overlap. For each course you have taken for a separate test-based certification, you will need to check FM myLearn to see if the classes you completed count towards your new...

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Federal Audits: How Much Evidence is Enough?

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

How much evidence is enough? Is this a question answered by using “professional judgment?” Unfortunately there is no formula in the Yellow Book – or anywhere else for that matter — that answers these questions.  So … how do we know? The Yellow Book (para. 6.67) says: “Sufficiency is a measure of the quantity of evidence used for addressing the audit objectives and supporting findings and conclusions.”  O.K. then.  Quantity is the key.  The more evidence we have, the better the audit.  The more people will be convinced of the audit message, right? Not so fast!  Why gather more evidence than you need?  If a reader is going to be convinced with five pages of evidence, then any more than that is a waste.  Further, the standard goes on to say that sufficiency and appropriateness (the other major characteristic required by the Yellow Book) are relevant concepts.  It says that having a large volume of evidence does not compensate for a lack of relevance, validity, or reliability, the three elements of appropriateness. So how much evidence is enough? It’s simple.  When there is enough relevant, valid, and reliable evidence to convince the auditee to take action, according to the professional judgment of the...

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Does It Make Any Difference?

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

From time to time it is important to take stock of why we invest our energy in the things that occupy us.   Birthdays, job changes, and retirements are points where we as individuals commonly reflect and ask “does what I do make any difference?” In early August my colleague, Cleve Pillifant, retired from Management Concepts.  He joins the cadre of senior “‘tweens” who work on occasion a few days or weeks here and there, ‘tween work habits compacted over a career and a complete leisure retirement.   Cleve proudly and irreverently (as is his style) titles himself on his LinkedIn consulting LLC as “President and Grand Poobah.” I’ve known Cleve for less than a year, but we have common root in military careers, his in the Marine Corps, mine in the Army.  At the Management Concepts farewell luncheon, hosted on the outside terrace of our Tysons Corner office building, standing on a stepstool above the group of his friends and co-workers, Cleve made public his reflections on “does it make any difference?”  Typical of a colonel at a change-of-command, he diminished his own importance in favor of the Management Concepts team. He wanted to give us a final challenge and motivation.  He asked, “In the grand scheme of life, what’s the value that our company gives?”   He paused, giving time for us to consider our own individual efforts to develop and deliver quality training for our many customers.  I reflected that it’s easy to narrowly focus on “the metrics” like enrollment stats or student surveys.   To take satisfaction in a course revised with the latest law and policy changes.  To count the number of successful course deliveries and client “attaboys” and call that success.  Are these the right measures of the value we give? Cleve then answered:  The training we provide is important because it changes peoples’ lives for the better.  His point was that training statistics, contracts, and performance metrics are useful to measure progress along the journey, true.  But the significance of our training efforts is only achieved one person at a time: when our adult student gets that promotion, when he discovers an entire new field of work to pursue, when she decides to commit herself to mastery of her career field.  These are points of realization which elevate the trajectory of a person’s career, and we, the Management Concepts team, can take pride that our efforts have this positive impact. The genuine reason for our team of professionals who agree to the collective banner of “Management Concepts – Unleashing the Potential of Individuals, Teams, and Organizations” is the achievement of each person who betters their life by the knowledge we convey. Then, the old colonel didn’t say this, but I knew he was thinking it: “… that’s your mission, and don’t ever forget it.  Carry on!” Ooorah, Cleve.  And...

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The Key to Effective Financial Management at DoD: A Well-Trained Workforce

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

In an era of constrained Federal budgets, the Department of Defense (DoD) faces increased scrutiny into how it spends and accounts for the large financial resources it utilizes to defend our nation. A major challenge for DoD has been achieving auditable financial statements. The DoD remains the sole cabinet level agency to have not received at least a qualified opinion on its financial statements from an independent outside auditor. Although it has a goal to achieve full audit readiness for all DoD financial statements by 2017, the Department has some way to go to achieving full audit readiness, as an organization-wide audit has yet to take place.  Despite the many challenges ahead, the DoD has taken many positive steps towards meeting its goal, and one of the most critically important of these is the increased investment in the financial management workforce. The Department understands that one of its greatest assets is its people and that it will need to provide them with the necessary tools and knowledge to reach audit readiness. Achieving audit readiness requires a competent financial management workforce that can implement policies to ensure financial operations allow for auditability. Not only must financial resources be accounted for accurately, the DoD must also be able to provide reasonable assurance to auditors that it has done so. Having a wider understanding of auditor’s requirements will increase the likelihood of future successful audits.  There are many additional benefits to a well-trained workforce, other than helping with audit readiness, including decreases in fraud, waste and abuse, as well as higher employee satisfaction and retention. The launch of the DoD FM Certification Program is a result of the focus on improving the skills of the financial management workforce.  After a period of planning and pilots, the program has fully launched in the summer of 2014. The certification program has three levels, which the level required for each person is dependent upon their job grade. To achieve their level of certification an individual must complete a range of courses that map to a comprehensive framework of competencies, as well as meet other requirements such as years of experience. The competencies are designed to address the needs of the specific functions within the FM community including accountants, budget analysts, finance and military and civilian pay.  To facilitate the certification training process, Management Concepts has designed an online tool, FM Connect, which shows users exactly what courses they need to fill their certification training gaps. Overall, The DoD and its workforce stand to see many benefits from the new certification program and focus on financial management...

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Levels, levels everywhere and not an ounce of clarity anywhere!

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

About once or twice a year, I find myself sitting in a meeting with clients and colleagues, and I suddenly realize that confusion has ensued without people realizing it. I specifically remember one meeting where, despite that fact that we were all training and learning experts in our own right — we began to talk past each other. The discussion was on “levels.”  A few of us had confused looks on our faces. The discussion continued as each person tried to explain and re-explain the points they were trying to make. After several painful minutes, I realized that the confusion was due to a communication problem. One person was talking about Blooms Levels, but instead of saying Blooms Level she simply said Level. Another person heard Level and assumed that she meant Certification Level. Someone else heard Evaluation Level. And confusion ensued. Now, that I’ve learned the lesson of Level Confusion, I know to keep an eye out for it. I can more quickly recognize when it happens. I even try to head it off by using the specific term that I mean. Sometimes, I ask someone to clarify what they meant when they use Level. What are all these Levels? Let’s take a quick look at what the most common Levels are in the training and learning field. Of course, many other Levels exist. Blooms Levels refer to levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. Typically, when people refer to it, they are talking about different objectives that a training course could have. The levels begin with Knowledge and then build on each other: Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation For example, there are many ways to train employees to communicate better. The training could teach them to memorize different theories of communication or facts about effective communication (Knowledge). After teaching them basic knowledge, they could be taught to compare and contrast different communication theories (Comprehension). Next, the training could ask employees to solve a problem by applying one of the communication techniques in a role play (Application). It could have them identify different ways of effectively communicating in a new situation (Analysis) or require them to compile different elements of communication theories to come up with alternative ways of approaching a conversation (Synthesis). Finally, they could observe other students in a role play and judge their effectiveness at using communication techniques (Evaluation). Many agencies and fields have Certification Levels, which indicate that an individual can competently perform a job. A certification is typically attained by passing a certification exam (such as a Project Management Professional certification) or taking and passing a series of classes (such as the Federal Acquisition Certification for Contracting, or FAC-C). In some cases, experience and education requirements also must be met. Different certification levels represent increasing degrees of competence within the field or area. For example, both FAC-C and the newly refreshed FAC-C® has three levels—Levels I, II, and III—each of which requires progressively more years of experience doing contracting work as well as more training. Evaluation Levels refer to levels in a training evaluation model, such as the Kirkpatrick® Model or the Phillips Model. There are many different ways to determine whether a training event was effective. The Levels describe different ways to evaluate training and include: Level 1 is the students’...

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Having an “HMU” Instead of an Attack

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A senior leader at a Federal agency I recently worked with was revered throughout the organization, known for his wisdom, excellent communication skills and approachability. When something went bad or wrong with anyone, he would sit down with the person and have an “HMU” conversation. Before explaining what an HMU is, it is important to remember how most conversations go in many organizations when something goes wrong. The conversation often goes badly, evokes negative emotions, defensiveness, hurt feelings, future avoidance and other damage. (This is why teaching people how to give feedback that works is a standard feature management and leadership development programs.) But an HMU conversation is different. It stands for “Help Me Understand.” First, it’s a conversation, not a diatribe or one-way monologue. Second, it leads with questions. Asking to help someone help you understand is a question itself. HMU starts with no real agenda or pre-conceived notions. It starts with a desire to understand. Since the “how” of the “what” always matters greatly in these things, it should be noted that the demeanor of the leader who uses this approach is calm, open and reasonable. The HMU gives the employee the responsibility of walking through his or her reasoning, and it goes from there. When there is information that was not known to the leader that changes the picture, he thanks the employee and everyone gets back to work. And when there was a lapse in logic or good thinking on the part of the employee, the leader helps the employee see that. Employees know an HMU could lead to constructive criticism, but it’s different than an attack. It helps them to think through their actions, surface their reasoning and actually learn something. The next time something happens that doesn’t make sense to you, start with “Help me understand . . .” If giving effective feedback and other leadership and management competencies are holding your team back, consider implementing a leadership development...

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Instructional Games in Government and Industry

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A growing trend in today’s business learning environments has been moving toward simultaneously teaching and experiencing important ideas through verbal, tactile, and surrogate methods.   In other words, we don’t just describe, display, and observe — we simulate.   Game-based business simulations provide a means for students to perform tasks, demonstrate skills, and also exhibit attitudes in order to create or experience effective approaches in dealing with real or potential situations. The concept and practice of simulations are not new; they’ve been part of human behavior for centuries.  Child’s play, drama, and scientific experimentation all facilitate knowledge acquisition and personal experience in ways that encompass formal, informal, and various combinations of learning.  However, in this technological world, the word simulation most likely conjures images of computer-, tablet-, smartphone- and other types of digital hardware and software-based approaches. Business learning and simulation games take several forms including in-person role play, computer simulations, and team-centered scenarios while connecting multiple players that are geographically near and far.    During business simulations, whether in-person or computer-based, the participants typically assume a specific persona and exhibit behavior within a business setting; are given tasks to perform or decisions to make; and receive feedback on the quality of their individual or team performance.   Through the development of realistic business scenarios, the participant is provided with a problem or situation requiring various physical, mental, emotional, kinesthetic, and combination responses.   In both in-person and via computer, the scenario events will branch based on the dynamic interactions of the participants, frequently yielding a multitude of solutions or outcomes. Meaningful simulations, especially in business and industry still require human interaction, the kind that cannot be fully satisfied through surrogate, two-dimensional, or even three-dimensional representations or natural language processing.  Computers, for the most part, have rebranded the definition of simulation.   There are still actions and tasks that computers cannot perform.   The benefits and uses of people-centric, interpersonal, and table-top simulations that have been widely used by the military and other tactical decision makers in government and industry is not dependent upon the graphics representation, but rather, human collaboration. There are two basic types of business simulations:  content and process. It is important to note that the line between process and content is often blurred because each simulation contains elements of both.  However, in most cases the type of simulation used skews the primary learning either towards learning the process or learning the specific content. For the most part, content simulations are hosted on computers to explore what actions are to be taken.  For example, if an individual makes a decision and implements that decision by pressing a button, what will happen? On the other hand, process simulations examine the how and why of actions taken. In other words, the focus of the simulation considers the outcome as it pertains to the level of agreement among the interpersonal processes and motives used, the how and why regarding a particular decision. Process simulations usually precede content simulations and are more interpersonal by nature. The reason is that human beings are a why-driven species. We like to know why we are doing something before we actually engage in the task and do it. Knowing the why helps us make sense of our actions, no matter how small or large they might...

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What’s New with the USSGL

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

The Treasury Department released their annual update to the U.S. Standard General Ledger (USSGL) last Tuesday.  While most changes are fairly minor, it is interesting to see how the USSGL guidance is changing to support Governmentwide Treasury Account Symbol Adjusted Trial Balance System (GTAS). Beyond the six-digit general ledger account codes that were recently updated, the USSGL now includes an additional section for GTAS validations and edits.  The validations ensure the integrity of the USSGL data, while the edits ensure data is consistent with external data sources (e.g., the Federal Financing Bank [FFB]).  Unfortunately, another big change with this update is that there is no longer a web-enabled search feature, which is particularly frustrating when referencing Section VII: GTAS Validations and Edits. Thankfully, Treasury has acknowledged that Section VII, while detailed and comprehensive, is somewhat difficult to navigate. Treasury indicates that a web-enabled search feature for the new USSGL is forthcoming.  In the interim, if you are looking for validation or edit information, it is best to use the summary reports that provide an overview.  You can also use the “find” function within the PDF version of the USSGL as Treasury describes. But here’s something cool to note – while it is certainly difficult to find the search window for the FY 2013 USSGL, it is still on Treasury’s site! Should you need to reference the FY 2013 USSGL, save yourself some time and click here. All sections of the FY 2014 USSGL are also accessible from this link. For agencies submitting trial balance data using GTAS, how have the data validations and edits affected your close process?  To view the June 2014 release of the USSGL, visit Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service website. And to keep getting my updates on the USSGL and other pertinent accounting topics, be sure to subscribe to the blog. We’ve just released new training class dates for our courses U.S. Standard General Ledger: Practical Applications and Preparing Federal Financial Statements Using the U.S. Standard General...

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Don’t Forget the Sammies This 4th of July!

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I’m not referring to the “sammies” you may be planning for a July 4th picnic celebration, but you can get back to perusing tasty recipes for your holiday menu in just a minute. I’ll be brief. I’m talking about what are referred to as the “Oscars” of government service awards: The Service to America Medals awarded each year by the DC-based Partnership for Public Service. The Sammies recognize “outstanding Federal employees who are making high-impact contributions to the health, safety and welfare of countless Americans and others around the world.” Eight Federal leaders are awarded for their efforts across a handful of categories, including: Science and Environment Homeland Security and Law Enforcement National Security and International Affairs Citizen Services Management Excellence The 2014 Sammie nominations were released back in early May, and the results are announced at the annual Service to America Medals Gala in September. The Sammies are particularly important to note this year because all too often lately the lead story on the evening news is another “failure,” “mistake,” or “cover up” by a Federal organization run by a high profile government leader. The fact is that Federal organizations are no more or less immune to scandal or poor management decisions than private sector companies. We need (and we clearly have some) exceptional individuals that are dedicated to bringing the same drive and innovation to the organizations that exist to keep us safe and healthy as those that exist to grow our investments or develop the next life-altering tech gadget. From saving $4 billion in purchasing new rockets to using cutting-edge technology to detect crime to improving the way Government respond to natural disasters, this year’s nominees have shown innovation, agility, and hard-work are essential to outstanding public service. So, on the eve of this Independence Day, let’s celebrate those Federal leaders who are choosing to use their talents to serve our country with the same American spirit that helped us on that pivotal day in 1776. And, to those Federal leaders out there, we say thank...

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Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

You’ve completed the self-assessment, submitted your resume via USAjobs.gov, and have been selected for an interview. Now what?  Interviewing can be quite nerve-wracking in general, but can be even more so for a Federal job, which is quite different from interviewing with a private firm. Successful planning and preparing in advance will be the key to success… and hopefully an offer for employment. Below are some tips on preparing for a Federal job interview. Before the interview… Prepare Using the Job Announcement: You applied and tailored your resume and assessment for a specific job announcement that lists the qualifications, skills and experience that the organization deems necessary to be successful in that role.  Prepare in advance specific examples that demonstrate your experience and accomplishments that align with those items mentioned in the job announcement. You want to be able to confidently talk through several of these examples to effectively illustrate why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you’ve tailored your resume for the job, you can reference the section of your resume where it’s discussed. This gives the interviewer a visual as well as an auditory reference to help them remember your qualifications. Know the Organization: Do research on the organization. Each agency has a specific mission and it’s important to know what that is. Furthermore, agencies have a human capital plan that often explains skills the agency is most seeking.  Click here, to search for missions and human capital plans by agency.  Setting up Google news alerts is another easy way for you to stay on top of current events for a particular organization. For many government employees, it’s not about the money they make, but being a part of an organization that is working hard to do something specific for the public. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask and tailor it to the organization and role you’re interviewing for. This will show the hiring official that you take this interview and job opportunity seriously.  In addition, if you know who will be interviewing you, check their profile on LinkedIn. The Interview… Arrive Early: You never know what traffic will be like or what obstacles you may face while trying to get to an interview. If you have time prior to your interview, do a “dry run” so you know exactly where the building is, where to park, what metro stop to get off at, etc.  Another important thing to keep in mind is that many government agencies have strict security requirements, which may take some additional time when arriving and checking in at the building. Always be sure to bring a government ID with your photo such as a driver’s license or passport. You may also want to leave non-essential items, likely to set off metal detectors, such as a pocketful of change, at home. Many women feel more comfortable bringing in a portfolio with their ID and leaving their purse locked securely in the car. Feeling rushed right before an interview will only add to your stress. Ask the person setting up the meeting if there is anything extra you should know about traveling to their building. First Impressions: Hiring officials often make a judgment within 15 seconds of you walking through the door, making appearance a critical, although often subconscious, aspect of an...

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Bad Auditude: Are Auditors Destined to Become Cynics?

Posted by on Jun 26, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Auditors: trained cynics or professional skeptics? I’ve heard spouses of longtime auditors accuse their mates of becoming trained cynics.  You know how it goes: An auditor walks in the front door at home after a long day of rooting out fraud, waste, and mismanagement and immediately comments on the fact that the living room easy chair is out of place.  Well, it is!  And it shouldn’t be!  Management (i.e., the auditor’s spouse) needs to put it in its proper place. Auditors who have been in the profession for a while should periodically take off their auditor lenses and assess how they see the agency/program/activity they evaluate daily.  Are they being balanced?  Objective? Fair? The Yellow Book says that auditors should, “[c]onduct work with an attitude that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, and non-ideological with regard to audited entities and users of the auditors’ reports.”  Sounds easy, right? One complaint heard from students in my auditing classes is that Government Accountability Office (GAO) and inspector general (IG) auditors often seem to be “looking for anything” that they can report as a finding.  While we know that we have specific audit objectives, we may not always make clear to auditees why it is important that we get the information we are requesting.  When we take the time to explain our information needs, it helps overcome the perception that we are on some sort of fishing expedition. Our goal should always be to find that delicate balance between the desired professional skepticism about the evidence we are gathering and the determined approach to uncover reportable findings.  And at home, well, the misplaced chair is not really a reportable finding. Have you ever found yourself on the line between cynicism and professional skepticism? Have you found ways to make sure you take off your auditor hat after you leave the office? Let us know in the comments section! And be sure to subscribe to this blog to keep up with our explorations of the Yellow Book standards and auditor...

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4 Generation Workforce: Instructional Challenges for Human Resources & Management Leaders

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

“They’ve been called Generation Y. They’ve been called Echo Boomers. They may go by different names, but there’s no debate about their effect on business. They are the fastest growing segment of your employee population. They’ve been trained to use their heads more than their hands to solve problems.  It will take a new set of leadership skills to understand their perspective and motivate them to succeed.”  –  Donald D. Shandler, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President, Graduate and Adult Education, Marymount University, and author of Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker. Historically, this is the first time that there are four different generations concurrently in the workforce. The anchor years for these generations are: silents (b.1925-1942), boomers (b. 1943-1960), generation X (b. 1961-1981) and millennials (b.1982-2003). America’s new four generation workforce brings different values, needs, preferences, behaviors and experiences to the workplace. It’s critical for today’s senior leadership, line managers, and training professionals to realize that their multigenerational staff may require different learning styles and preferences. More specifically, there are critical instructional design considerations that must be addressed when designing and developing programs for the four generations that now work and learn together. For those professionals charged with the responsibility of engaging, training, and educating a high- performing multigenerational workforce they must plan and accommodate for the commonalities and differences that each population exhibits. In particular, it’s essential to focus on the learning preferences of the three largest cohorts presently in the workforce. Boomers have a preference for classroom-based and career-related programs; Generation X express enthusiasm for online programs and learning for both fun and enrichment; and, Millennials, as digital natives, have an intense interest in technology-enabled learning with little tolerance for boredom. To be an effective manager of these generational differences: Recognize the unique learning preferences of the four generational cohorts now driving America’s economy, and in particular the millennials. Identify inclusive learning strategies to design multigenerational learning experiences. Appreciate the importance of the millennial knowledge worker as a seminal force and centerpiece of a rapidly changing workforce. Incorporate technology-mediated learning methods to meet generational learning needs. Staff directly serving the training and professional development needs of the generations should: Expand their instructional design strategies to include generational learning preferences. Encourage the application of generational learning strategies to enhance an existing or proposed learning experience. Stay current on the growing body of generational research impacting workplace learning and performance. Reconcile the balance of classroom-based and technology-enabled learning. Stuart H. Weinstein, Ph.D is Practice Leader – Instructional Systems at Management Concepts.   Additionally, he was a contributing author to Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker (Axzo Press – Crisp Fifty-Minute Books, Paperback, 257 pages, December 2009).   In addition to his role at Management Concepts, Dr. Weinstein teaches Principles of Training and Development and Corporate Distance Training in the Instructional Systems Development graduate program at the University of Maryland Baltimore...

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Pop Quiz: How Do You Evaluate Training?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Recently, I’ve encountered several instances where agencies want to make sure they get what they pay for when training their employees. One method that I’ve observed is giving students a test at the beginning and end of a class. At first glance, this makes sense: Let’s make sure the employees are learning something when we spend our scarce training dollars. To understand the limitations of the before and after test, let’s look at Laura, a GS-9 analyst with ambitions to move up to deputy program manager and eventually to program manager. Laura signs up for a three-day class on effective briefing and presentation skills. The morning of the class, she feels nervous, wondering “Will I have to give a speech in front of the whole class?” Walking into the classroom on Monday morning, the instructor hands her a test. Laura finds a seat and looks over the test, which asks how she should analyze the audience when preparing a speech and to identify “bridge words.” She’s presented with four short lists of words to choose the right answer from; the words start to jumble together as she reads them. Memories of standardized tests in high school start to run through her head. Laura does her best to answer the questions and hands her test in. Other students filter in, starting their tests. While waiting, Laura strikes up a conversation with Sam. The instructor asks them to be quiet so that the other students can focus on their tests. Glancing at her iPhone®, Laura realizes that it is almost 10 a.m. A whole hour has gone by as they wait for everyone to finish the test! Finally, the instructor begins the class. Laura learns many tips and ideas for giving a great briefing. She even learns that “bridge words” are transition words, such as however, in addition, and for instance, that help the audience know that you are moving on to a new thought. On the afternoon of the last day, each student prepares a short talk. Laura feels confident and eager to try her new skills. Each student takes turns giving their talk. Laura receives a standing ovation for her talk. At the end of the class, the instructor hands out another test. Instead of leaving with a sense of exhilaration that she nailed her talk, she leaves a bit anxious that she didn’t remember all of the key characteristics of effective presentations. Laura wishes she could ask the instructor a few more questions, but there is no time; the class is done and students filter out of the room. This scenario highlights several drawbacks of pre- and post-tests, which are: They take away valuable instruction time They test students on material that they have not yet been taught They often measure test taking skills more than knowledge Further, pre- and post-tests are not good measures of a student’s skill or behavior. Laura could get a perfect score on her post-test, yet still not be able to give an effective presentation. But, wait! Isn’t it possible that, for whatever reason, Laura did NOT learn what a “bridge word” was? Don’t we need to know if the instructor did a poor job teaching? Or that the materials didn’t clearly explain certain concepts? Or that Laura just daydreamed during the class?...

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Change in Contract Scope Requires Current Year Funds

Posted by on Jun 18, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

As an appropriations law instructor, my students frequently ask me about contracts. Recently, I was asked was about a contract that has been extended. My student explained that his agency had processed two short-term extensions for this contract, the first of which only required additional labor. The second extension required both labor and travel. The student wanted to know if the remaining funds on the contract could be used from the first extension or if the agency would need to use current year funds because of the additional request for travel. He noted that labor and travel were recorded on separate contract line items. After reviewing the situation, my opinion was that the agency was changing the scope of the contract for the portion of the contract covered by the extension. I reminded my student that when you change the contract period and there is added cost, you need to use funds currently available at the time of change. I am always elated when I receive questions such as this because it lets me know that government employees are keen to make sure they are charging the correct appropriation for all of their contracting issues like contract extensions and changes in scope. And rightly so! As I’ve said before, the intersection of appropriations law and contract law is a very sticky subject. Always consult your agency’s legal counsel for matters such as this. Additionally, a good resource for understanding the intersection of appropriations law and contract law comes from the 2010 GAO Appropriations Law Forum. GAO prepared a very handy crosswalk for common issues that makes a wonderful reference tool when dealing with these...

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The Top 5 Challenges of DoD’s Audit Readiness Program

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Financial Management | 1 comment

Several years ago, the Department of Defense implemented a program called Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR) in order to position the department to have auditable financial statements to to better support decisions regarding the allocation and use of resources. The FIAR program goals are: By September 30, 2014, the General Fund Statement of Budgetary Resources (SBR) should be audit ready By June 30, 2016, validate the existence (i.e., ensure that recorded assets exist) and completeness (i.e., managed/stored assets are recorded in the ledger) of mission critical assets By September 30, 2017, all DoD financial statements should be audit ready With less than three months to achieve the goal for an audit-ready SBR, the DoD is working aggressively to implement corrective actions. Although the list of challenges is expansive, the following five challenges are chief among them: Implementing and sustaining internal controls. Services and other Defense organizations (ODOs) still encounter significant issues identifying risks and implementing internal controls within information systems, especially for micro-applications Beginning balances. Although the beginning balances don’t have to be asserted until FY 2017, services and ODOs have to undertake a significant data clean-up effort as well as ensure that internal controls remain effective over the course of multiple fiscal years Asset valuation. Assigning net book value to the portfolio of tangible assets is among the greatest challenges for all DOD agencies primarily because of the variety and complexity of the portfolio Human capital. Attracting experienced audit and accounting professionals capable of supporting audit readiness and audit processes continues to be difficult for DoD Budget uncertainty. Many of the aforementioned challenges can be minimized with the assignment of additional resources. However, funding levels are constantly changing throughout the department, which directly affects program support. While most of the identified challenges will continue throughout the program, the DoD should ensure each challenge has a mitigating strategy throughout the department. On a brighter note, there have been significant accomplishments within the program. As of May 2014, the Marine Corps and six ODOs have received unmodified opinions on their FY 2013 Statement of Budgetary Activity. Additionally, there are 23 examinations underway. To keep up with the latest in FIAR program reporting, click to view DoD’s full status report and be sure to subscribe to our blog for more...

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Augmentation and Miscellaneous Receipts for Revolving Funds

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

If you work for a revolving fund, you may be wondering if the appropriations law augmentation principle as related to the miscellaneous receipts statute (31 USC 3302(b)) applies to revolving (i.e., working capital) funds. According to the GAO Red Book, revolving funds are able to keep receipts as long as the receipts are related to the necessary operation of the fund. If the receipt is not related to the operation of the fund, it must be deposited in the Treasury as miscellaneous receipts. For example, a revolving fund established to perform ship overhaul may not hold an auction or car wash to augment the fund, but it may retain incentive rebates from manufacturers based on volumes of materials ordered. In summary, only those receipts that relate to the statutory purpose of a revolving fund may be retained by the fund. To do otherwise invites the possibility of violating the Antideficiency Act (ADA). Now, aren’t you glad you asked? To learn more about the augmentation principle and other key appropriations law concepts, check out The Appropriations Law Answer Book from Management Concepts...

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Appearances in Audits Are Actually Everything

Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Appearances matter in conducting audits. The Yellow Book says appearance is an important factor in conducting audits; that is, “independence in appearance,” which goes along with independence of mind. These are the two main qualities an auditor must exhibit in order to meet the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS) standard on independence. The focus on these two qualities in the 2011 revision of the Yellow Book represents a slight change from the 2007 version. The 2011 Yellow Book defines these two important aspects of the personal conduct of an auditor as: Independence of mind is a state of mind free of influences that compromise professional judgment Independence of appearance is the absence of circumstances that would cause a reasonable third party to conclude that the objectivity or integrity of the auditor is compromised To aid in the process evaluating these factors, the 2011 Yellow Book presents a new conceptual framework for making independence determinations. The framework includes a decision tree or yes-or-no series of questions and steps that guide an auditor or an audit organization in assessing independence. To view the framework, refer to page 215 of Appendix II in the Yellow Book. While auditors could always make successful independence determinations using previous versions of the Yellow Book standards, these definitions and the new conceptual framework greatly enhance an auditor’s ability to make a sound determination for any...

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Assuring Successful Adoption of Business Innovations

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

It’s common practice for the government and commercial entities to periodically modify their organization’s reporting structure, business processes, and day-to-day procedures to adapt to the changing needs of the agency or company.  And … it’s human nature to be resistant or hesitant to the accepting the changes, or confused by the new ideas that result from those actions.   Senior leadership tends to introduce the “new ways of doing things” through policies, memos, all-hands meetings, and the all too frequent “word of mouth.”  Although these work to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the “message” or the level of effort in planning the changes, there are some fundamental tips that relate to basic human behavior which work with most people regardless of their nationality, language, culture, education, or location.   I would like to share five easy-to-remember building blocks that have been proven to lead to successful adoption of new ideas and innovations. The foundation for these building blocks were derived from an analysis of over 1,100 sociological studies by Everett M. Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker in their ground breaking book, Communication of Innovations, 1972. The authors define innovations as “an idea, product, or practice as being perceived as new by an individual.” The key here is that when individuals, not the organizations, adopt new ways of thinking or acting, the resulting changes are more readily accepted.  To verify that this definition is true, Rogers and Shoemaker explored the characteristics of innovators, the rate of adoption of ideas by a diverse population of people, and the decision-making processes in 103 different sociological settings. They also compared what they found with similar conclusions in more than 1,500 publications dealing with the communication of innovations. Examples of the new ideas they studied ranged from introducing farm tractors in Turkey, to family planning techniques among Hindu housewives, to modern math among Pennsylvania teachers and ultimately the introduction of new medicines worldwide. You may have heard of the terms “innovators,” “early adopters” and “late adopters”, which are commonly used in the press and trade journals. Those terms and concepts are from these authors.   Types of Innovation Adopters (Adapted from Rogers and Shoemaker, Innovation Curve in Communication of Innovations, 1972)  The Five Building Blocks for Successful Innovations There are the five building blocks that you may want to include in your planning for new “innovations.” Relative Advantage:   “The degree to which an individual perceives that a new idea or product is better than the one it supersedes.” The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Compatibility:  “The degree to which an idea or innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences and the needs of the person considering the adoption of the innovation.” The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Complexity:   “The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use or understand.  The ease with which an individual can acquire capabilities in the use of the innovation is measurable on a simplicity — complexity continuum.”  The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption. Trialability:  “The degree to which an innovation may be experimented or “tried out” on a limited basis; without committing the individual to a permanent adoption.”  The trialability of an innovation is...

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Employee Performance: Do You See the Big Picture?

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Linda, a supervisor of an eight-person analysis team, went home every night for a week frustrated that her team wasn’t getting the job done. She shared her frustrations with her husband over dinners, “Maybe this team just doesn’t have what it takes. Charles and Kelly don’t seem to understand some of the analyses we do. And, Jose and Pat just seem apathetic most of the time.” Linda’s husband asks, “Wait, didn’t you invest a lot in training those four last year? Remember how many dinners I ate alone because you were doing their work while they took classes?” Linda sighs, “Yeah, I thought things would get a lot easier when they improved their analytics skills. I even made sure they knew how strongly I felt about investing in them and their careers.” Linda faces an issue that many supervisors face each day. They often ask: What influences employee performance? How can I improve their performance? More factors impact performance than many of us realize. Some of these factors include: Skills Ability Attitudes Personality Background and experiences Motivation Organizational culture Work context Linda might want to consider all of these factors as she tries to figure out why they are performing lower than her expectations. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios that relate to each factor: Skills: Despite having sent the four team members to training, the analysis software that is used on the job is different from the one used in training. Additional training in the analysis software that the team uses may be needed. Ability: Some of the team members don’t have the attention to detail that analysis work requires. They may perform better in a different role. Attitudes: Jose and Pat are apathetic because they feel they are still regarded as junior team members even though they have advanced analytical skills. Personality: Charles and Kelly are reluctant to ask questions about their work assignments in a team meeting because they are introverted. Background and experiences: Charles has a background in financial analysis, which is quite different than technical analysis that Linda’s team does. Some of the concepts are the same, yet the work is different enough that Charles has a hard time using his background in his current role. Kelly comes from a family of technical analysts who take pride in one-upping each other, so she feels self-conscious about asking questions and prefers to figure things out on her own. Motivation: Pat was turned down for a promotion last year and doesn’t feel that his performance is being fairly rewarded. Jose feels that any extra effort he puts out is rewarded with more work. Organizational Culture and Work Context: Linda’s predecessor answered questions from the team with, “Don’t we pay you to know the answer to that?” Over time, the team stopped asking questions; the team’s norm soon became one of figuring things out on their own instead of working together to address challenges. Linda’s choice of solution depends, of course, on which of the above factors are operating. A likely next step is for her to gather additional information, perhaps by meeting with each team member. Linda, like most supervisors, will probably feel nervous or unsure how to approach this meeting or how to phrase her questions. The important first step for Linda is to recognize...

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3 Things to Know About Contract Termination Liability

Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

One of my appropriations law students recently asked a great question about how to handle contract termination liability. This is one of those sticky subjects regarding the intersection of contract law and appropriations law, so I highly recommend always consulting your agency’s legal counsel and specific regulations. Nevertheless, there are a few things to know about contract terminations that will help you better understand the concept and when to ask questions about it: Termination, like a contract incentive, is considered a contingent liability. According to the GAO’s “Glossary of Terms Used in the Federal Budget Process,” a contingent liability is, “an existing condition, situation, or set of circumstances that poses the possibility of a loss to an agency that will ultimately be resolved when one or more events occur or fail to occur.” A contingent liability does not create an actual liability (i.e., a legal obligation) until the contingency materializes—making the liability no longer contingent. In other words, contingent liabilities lack the certainty that is essential to the concept of an obligation. And here’s the sticky part: Contingent liabilities pose a fiscal dilemma. Some agencies may choose to recognize the potential amount as a commitment. However, OMB advises that commitments for contingent liabilities must be conservative or not made at all. So, if you choose to record contingent liabilities, then you must track them closely, especially at the end of the year so that you can recognize any contingent liabilities that need to be adjusted or decommitted. If you understand these three items, then you will be equipped to have conversations with all the right people should you ever find yourself dealing with a contract termination...

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Making Progress Toward Audit Ready Financial Statements

Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

As the Department of Defense nears the FY 2017 deadline for asserting audit ready financial statements, managing risks to meeting the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Acts becomes increasingly important. Today, DoD is making progress in implementing internal controls to manage financial reporting risks, but is doing very little to identify and manage program risks. Per the results of a GAO audit, published in their February 2013 report, DoD’s FIAR risk management activities are not comprehensive and do not fully align with widely accepted risk management activities to include the following: identifying risks that could prevent it from achieving goals, assessing the magnitude of those risks, developing risk mitigation plans, implementing mitigating actions to address the risks, and monitoring the effectiveness of those mitigating actions. While GAO’s audit findings were targeted specifically to DoD, the DoD components should also establish comprehensive risks programs to manage risks at all levels within their entity. In order to establish and carryout strong risk management programs to help achieve audit readiness, DoD and DoD components should develop policies and procedures to do the following on an ongoing basis: Identify program risks. Create comprehensive list that includes root causes for every risk identified Analyze risks. Gather input from a wide array of stakeholders and an  assessment of the likelihood and impact for each risk Plan for risk mitigation. Design internal controls and distribute accountability and responsibility for internal control procedures to the appropriate stakeholders Implement risk mitigation techniques. Train on risks assessment and specific internal control techniques for all affected stakeholders Monitor risks. Evaluate internal control techniques  for effectiveness on a continuous basis While implementing a comprehensive risk management framework for FIAR will not guarantee success, it will certainly increase the likelihood and go a long, long way toward achieving audit readiness by the...

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Use the Active Voice for More Impactful Writing

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

We often lessen the impact of our writing by using the passive voice. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some very practical guidance and examples that illustrate how government managers can add directness and impact to their communications, both with their staff and with the public. Give it a try with something you’ve written recently. See the difference? PREFER THE ACTIVE VOICE In an active sentence, the person or agency performing an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Changing passive voice to active voice in your writing can add energy and cut wordiness. Consider the following two versions of the same basic message, which describes a supervisor’s actions: All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor. Following the completion of each task, I received a full feedback that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and improve my performance. I was given support in addressing my personal objectives such as improvement of interviewing skills and building technical and client knowledge. My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions. His comments after every task helped me to reflect upon and improve my performance. He constantly encouraged me to address my objectives, such as improving my interviewing skills and building my technical knowledge. The first version, in passive voice, is wordier, weaker, and less direct. The second version, in active voice, is briefer, clearer, and more conversational or natural. The active voice emphasizes who is doing something: “My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions.” The actor (my supervisor) comes first in the sentence. The subject of the sentence does the action. The passive voice emphasizes who or what is being acted upon: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor.” Or, the doer may not be mentioned in the passive sentence: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly.” To communicate effectively, write most of your sentences in the active voice. To change passive sentences to active, follow these four steps:   1. Find or supply the actors. “An excellent job was done by Stacy.” Stacy is the actor. 2. Put the actor at the beginning of the sentence. “Stacy . . .” 3. Replace the passive verb with an active verb. “Stacy did . . .” 4. Make the subject of the passive sentence the direct object. “Stacy did an excellent job.” Of course, sometimes the passive voice is a better choice, such as when you need to point out an error or shortcoming in a diplomatic way. “A mistake was made in the last set of calculations” is more tactful than “You made a mistake in the last set of calculations.” Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD., a book in series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.   © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Does the Bona Fide Needs (BFN) Rule Now Have Less Bite?

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Some say one of the bedrock principles of federal appropriations law was eroded by a recent decision from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). May we now order several years’ worth of office supplies with a one-year appropriation if it saves money? Based on decision B-322455, dated August 16, 2013, the answer sure does seem to be yes, but it certainly did not used to be. Because of the Bona Fide Needs Rule, there was generally no authority to order more than one year’s worth of supplies with a one-year appropriation. If an agency wanted to order for a future year, it had to wait until the future year arrived and use its current year funds. But in decision B-322455, GAO decided 41 USC 3903 (from the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act) allows one-year appropriations to be used to acquire up to five years’ worth of services provided certain conditions are met. Only services were addressed in the decision because the inquiring department only included services in their question to GAO. But does the same principle now apply to office supplies? It almost certainly does. The law reads as follows: “An executive agency may enter into a multiyear contract for the acquisition of property or services if. . .” And since property is typically defined as something owned or possessed, that stipulation pertains to office supplies. As mentioned above, 41 USC 3903 does require that certain conditions are met: The purchase is limited to five years Funds must be “available and obligated . . . for the full period of the contract” “The need for the property . . . is reasonably firm and continuing over the period of the contract” “A multiyear contract will serve the best interests of the Federal Government by encouraging full and open competition or promoting economy in administration, performance, and operation of the agency’s programs” The Bona Fide Needs Rule would still apply in this way: if the need to place the order (obligation of funds) doesn’t really exist until the next fiscal year, then the order must wait until next year. And now the only question that remains is: How many agencies will really allow one-year funds to be obligated for up to five years’ worth of property such as office...

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Top 3 Ways to Avoid Audit Report Draft Ping Pong Syndrome

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

We’ve all lived through it (or, should I say, survived it): numerous audit report rewrites bouncing back and forth through multiple layers of review.  For everyone involved in an audit, from auditors to managers to reviewers, this Ping Pong Syndrome can be a real headache. Some amount of back and forth is inevitable, but a lot is definitely avoidable! Obviously, GAO’s Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (the Yellow Book) must be followed in the audit work and report to ensure credibility of the audit organization and message.  However, the process of ensuring quality does not have to be as burdensome as it often is in most cases. Here are three ways to avoid Ping Pong Syndrome with audit reports: During the planning stage, take care to write well-defined audit objectives that are clear and include specifically measurable performance aspects (e.g., timeliness).  This aims the audit steps and shapes the message for overall audit. Most of all, doing this work up front helps to spend less time, and therefore causes less frustration, during the report review. While conducting the field work for the audit, be sure to continuously communicate about the objectives with all participants, including ultimate report reviewers. Ensure that the audit team is gathering only evidence to answer the objectives. This will lead to the audit report presenting a sharper, more convincing message. With a focus on objectives, during field work and report writing, develop the elements of a finding so that they completely answer the objectives. This will help bolster safeguards against scope creep and lead to a more efficient use of resources. While each of these tactics is geared toward strengthening the action during a particular part of the audit process, you can improve the audit as a whole if you apply the best practices of each tactic (be clear, communicate, be thorough) throughout the entire audit process. Experience has shown that following these three approaches cuts down on the time and frustration of audit report preparation.  It takes commitment, but it does...

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Assess Before You Diagnose

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I opened my copy of Performance Improvement recently and was excited to read “An Ounce of Good Assessment is Worth A Pound of Analysis and A Ton of Cure” by Roger Kaufman. It is only natural for managers and executives to diagnose their organizations. They want quick answers. The sooner they can figure out what is causing a problem, the sooner they can focus on getting “real work” done. When I go to the doctor, I am the same way. I’ve already Googled my symptoms and think I know what’s wrong. I don’t want to spend time talking about the different possibilities. I want to focus on how I can cure my ailment. What I really want is a shot or pill that can fix me quickly! It’s frustrating when I leave the doctor’s office with nothing more than an order for a diagnostic test. But, I know that it’s the right approach to gather additional information to make a correct diagnosis. Organizations work the same way. Stepping back to gather information takes time. It takes resources. It requires clear thought. An assessment is simply a tool that helps you collect the information so that you can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then find the right solution. Does this mean that assessment has to be a costly, time-consuming endeavor? Of course not. Many ways exist to gather information—interviews, focus groups, online assessments, surveys, observations, and existing metrics. You might conduct a few interviews with key stakeholders.  You could invite five or six people to a focus group or spend a day observing employees on the job. You also might use an online assessment or survey, which are great ways to get information from many people in a relatively short amount of time. I learned from Dr. Kaufman’s article that investing the time to accurately diagnose the problem is not a new concept. In 1975, another leading scholar in the field of instructional design and performance improvement, Joe Harless, wrote a book called An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Today, people still want to rush to find a quick solution without spending time to analyze the problem. The next time you think you might be self-diagnosing a problem in your organization, stop to ask yourself a few questions: What are other possible explanations for what I am seeing? What evidence do I have that my explanation is the correct one? Am I relying on anecdotal evidence, such as a handful of personal observations or what others have told me? How can I collect information that will help me reach the right conclusion? If you think an assessment will help you better understand an organizational problem, seek assistance from an expert. Find someone who can advise you on how to collect the information you need for an accurate diagnosis. Performance improvement specialists—sometimes called human performance technologists, assessment specialists, instructional systems technologists, or industrial/organizational psychologists—will know the latest and most efficient way to proceed, often drawing on their experience and lessons learned while helping with other...

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When Purpose Trumps Procedure

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Sometimes, even in matters of appropriations law, the reason for going outside of standard operating procedure can trump following it. While teaching a recent Appropriations Law Seminar, a student asked a very good question about a situation where the IT staff of the agency directed the procurement office to purchase equipment without going through traditional channels. The IT staff wanted to procure a data line that would enable hearing impaired employees to make video telephone calls. The agency is normally supposed to go through the department’s information systems agency to procure data lines, but the IT department warned that the type of data line they would provide was not appropriate for the situation. They even cautioned that obtaining a waiver from the information systems agency to procure the data line through a local cable company could take up to 6 months! So, after checking with their command deputy, the procurement office had a verbal approval to purchase the data line through the local cable company instead of the department information systems agency. But my student wondered: Without a formal waiver from the information systems agency, will this purchase hold up against the scrutiny of an audit? My opinion is that, yes, this purchase would not be questioned if the agency is audited in the future. Obtaining the data line for hearing impaired employees falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires the U.S. government to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with a disability. To not do so may be considered discrimination against employees who have mental or physical impairments that limit one or more major life activities. Of course, everyone, including the local cable company, needs to remember that the data line remains the property of the U.S....

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A Short Checklist for Determining Your Agency’s GTAS Preparedness

Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in Financial Management | 0 comments

Brace yourself! The time to switch to the Government-wide Treasury Account Symbol Adjusted Trial Balance System (GTAS) is almost upon us! As Treasury states, “Effective the first reporting window of FY 2015, all federal agencies are required to have transitioned to GTAS.” We know you’ve heard the story: GTAS is now the primary means of reporting agency trial balance data, replacing the FACTS I, FACTS II, IFCS, and IRAS reporting systems. With GTAS as the single data collection system, the federal government will see more consistent and complete financial data and improved analytical reporting. But how do you know if your agency is ready for this change? Here is a short checklist of questions you can use to assess your agency’s preparedness for the switch to GTAS: Is my agency is using a standard web browser (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer)? For most agencies, the answer will be yes.  The use of standard web browsers throughout the federal government is pervasive. But use of a standard web browser is required for GTAS. Has my agency’s accounting system been updated to meet the bulk file data requirements? GTAS requires a specific format for the submission of the bulk data file. Be sure to review Treasury’s information about the required fields and the submission process. Do users understand the data edits and validations that will be run against the agencies adjusted trial balance? Data edits and validations ensure the completeness and accuracy of trial balance data. GTAS will not accept an agency’s trial balance if required data edits and validations are not passed.  Users can visit the Treasury online to view several informative reports about GTAS data validations and accounting edits. With these adjustments, your agency will be much better equipped for the changes coming this year and in FY 2015. For complete information about implementing GTAS, visit the Bureau of the Fiscal Service GTAS...

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Is ILT Dying?

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Yes, ILT (instructor-led training) is dying, but we need not mourn its loss. Instead, we should realize we are standing on the brink of something exhilarating: the reincarnation of instructor-led training as virtual instructor-led training (VILT). The traditional brick-and-mortar ILT classroom has been smoldering for a while now. As federal travel budgets shrink and training dollars dry up (although the future of training is looking up), organizations are seeking alternatives to fill their training needs. Organizations are continually looking for a way their employees can be out of the office for less time. In response, virtual instructor-led classes, which are typically delivered by an instructor in a virtual environment, are swooping in to meet this need. Organizations that have previously only offered traditional ILT classroom experiences acknowledge the customer expectation that these same courses be available virtually. ILT Reborn VILT marks the rebirth of ILT. In this format, employees can take required training courses without leaving their worksite. Some parts of the training may be available asynchronously, meaning students can learn at their own pace, and when their schedule allows. The classic VILT experience is guided by a facilitator, who in many cases will be delivering instruction real-time, so students can ask questions and participate in peer discussions. Given that there has been an overall increase in the use of VILT, and it is likely not going away anytime soon, it is important to address some of the common questions that come up around this training modality. How can you possibly replicate the ILT experience virtually? The answer is you cannot — and should not — simply carry over the ILT experience into virtual training. Instead, you design VILT courses so that the material can come to life in a virtual space. VILT courses are not mindless page-turners; rather, they have the potential to be highly interactive, relevant training experiences with frequent instructor and peer interaction built into the course. Where does the instructor fit in this new format? In the VILT class, the instructor still stands at the helm of the learning experience, coaching students, telling stories, answering questions, and delivering lectures (recorded or live). In fact, the instructor may be even more tapped into how individual students are doing than if the class were offered only in a traditional face-to-face classroom. VILT has the potential to provide more engagement through discussion forums, chats, polls, and other “pulse checks” that help the instructor gauge each learner’s mastery of the content. How do you reach those students who prefer to learn in an ILT setting? The point of VILT classes is not to set students adrift, floating alone in the virtual sea. Instead, they are part of a community of learners who happen to interact in a virtual classroom. Students often have the opportunity to explore course content at their own pace, so they can take the time they need with the material. In addition, the virtual environment encourages support, as peers respond to questions and share knowledge with each other. In the VILT classroom, there may also be some hesitation on the part of non-digital natives. Those who have built their careers sitting in the physical classroom with an instructor leading from the podium may find it difficult to envision a productive virtual training experience. Given that the...

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Tips for Government Managers to Overcome Writer’s Block

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Whether writing a business plan, memo, or report, one of the hardest tasks government managers face in writing is getting started. In my recent book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some  tips to help you break through the writer’s block we all experience—and also to help you make an initial assessment of what you have written before passing it along for editing and review.   TIPS FOR WRITING DRAFTS To make the draft stage easier and more productive, consider the following steps: • Once you have a complete outline in hand, write your first draft quickly. • Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for drafting. • Begin with the easiest section. • After you complete the first draft, walk away from it. • After you get some distance, take a few minutes to review your draft with fresh eyes. • Assess the following before going into the editing stage: – Did I explain my purpose clearly? – Did I consider the role, knowledge level, attitude, and other characteristics of the reader? – Does the overall organization of the draft make sense? – Did I provide closure? (For example, did you tell readers exactly what you want them to do?) After taking a cursory look at your first draft, you’re ready to go on to the editing stage. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.  © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Contract Negotiation: The Ambiguous Authority Tactic

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers federal negotiators a host of tactics they can use to get a solid, fair deal for their agency. One of these tactics is the “ambiguous authority” tactic—which we’ve all been subjected to when we’ve bought a car! How do you employ the tactic to get the best deal for the government? Share some experiences with your colleagues and we’ll all be better prepared for the next negotiation!   THE AMBIGUOUS AUTHORITY TACTIC You can use the ambiguous authority tactic when you are the chief negotiator but you don’t have ultimate authority to finalize the deal. You may have to go through an approval process before finalizing the negotiated agreement. You may have instructions to consult with a higher-up before you finalize the deal. These people or committees will be the ambiguous authorities you will defer to if you elect to use this tactic. The most common use of this tactic is in buying a car. You’ve slogged it out with the salesperson all day and finally think you have a deal. But then the salesperson wrinkles her brow, frowns, shakes his or her head slowly, and says those magic words, “I’ll have to talk to my sales manager.” Usually, there is no sales manager. The salesperson simply leaves you in the room to stew and sweat a little bit. You start second-guessing your last offer—and negotiating against yourself.   It’s good practice never to go into a negotiation with unlimited authority to close the deal, even if everyone has given you preapproval to do so. Always have someone you must go back to for approval. If you do have ultimate authority, never let negotiators for the other side know it. Once they find out you are the sole decision-maker, they know you are the only obstacle in the way of the terms and conditions they want. There is just one person to convince. The ambiguous authority tactic is usually employed just before the close of a negotiation. The other side thinks it has a deal, and all of a sudden there is someone else, or even a whole new cast of characters, to deal with. The last thing the other side wants is for this mysterious other person to blow a deal that is so close to being consummated. Negotiators may start to second-guess themselves and be tempted to soften their positions a bit to help you “sell” the deal to the other authority. They actually might start making additional concessions without demanding something in return. In effect, they start bidding against themselves. Always try to keep your ambiguous authority as vague as possible. This prevents the other side from immediately countering your tactic. If you hold out your boss as your ambiguous authority, the other side may simply ask you to bring that person into the negotiation. It’s harder for them to put a face on something vague like “the review committee,” “my finance folks,” or “my customers.” The best way to counter the ambiguous authority tactic is to head it off at the pass. Simply refuse to negotiate with anyone who doesn’t have ultimate authority to bind the company. Remember, you control the process—including setting and running the agenda. When you send the other side...

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Go Ahead, Make My Year

Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 in Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

There is a small, weekly column in the Washington Post titled Animal Watch that chronicles the various adventures of animals of all kinds – dogs, cats, raccoons, eagles and more. The Animal Control Department is often called. This column is very cleverly written and headlined. It always brings a chuckle in my household. And with the New Year underway, I decided to do something about it. What does this have to do with leadership and why should you care about this? In working with leaders, managers and supervisors, we always emphasize the importance of giving positive feedback, recognition and praise when due. The opposite means the only feedback employees get is negative. This does not create a good climate, and is something people may want to bear in mind in continuing to read the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work data. On the other hand, giving positive feedback has been shown to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in our bloodstreams. We’ve all experienced this, and we certainly appreciate it when it happens to us. We ride a little taller in the saddle, and perhaps may feel, deep down, that yes, at times, we are, in fact, The Man or Woman. But, back to Animal Watch. Here are some examples of recent headlines: Raccoon can’t make a clean getaway – this was about one found in a laundry room One big dam rodent – about a 50-pound beaver Severe headache for hawk – about a hawk that flew into a screened porch Bird gets sooty – about one found in a (cold) fireplace Stray Shih Tzu is not up to restaurant dress code at Ballston mall – about a dog that wandered into a Noodles restaurant I have sometimes read these to my wife and daughter, and in the new year thought, it’s time to do something about all this, and so I called up one of the reporters who compiles these. I told her I found the writing clever and humorous, and that I really appreciated the touch she brought to the column. What followed made this small effort so worthwhile. You could hear her happiness over the telephone, and then she said, and I quote, “You just made my year.” Go ahead, make an employee’s (or anyone’s)...

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Make Peace with Change and Focus on Building Resilience

Posted by on Jan 3, 2014 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Management Concepts recently identified 5 Essential NEW Leadership Habits for Federal Leaders. The second item on that list is “Make peace with change and focus on building resilience.” It was not so very long ago that many people in organizations sought to minimize risk, preserve the status quo and even get by until retirement. That strategy worked, in a sense, so long as the going was good. Today, it is a very different story. Beset with change, disruption, technological and social transformation, and rising demands for results, practically all organizations are scrambling to stay relevant, valuable and in front of the latest wave breaking on their shores. Given the fundamentally changing terrain on which organizations now operate, a new personal ethos around change, adaptation, innovation and risk is arising. That ethos is uncomfortable, sometimes destabilizing, fraught with danger, and requires a lot more energy. But, it is here to stay. So what are leaders supposed to do? One way of understanding the new requirements for leaders to adapt and shift long-standing and  comfortable habits is to observe the tone of today’s “success literature” – all the books, articles and businesses that seek to help people succeed. The messages in this genre have shifted from something like a “get rich quick – the world is your oyster with unlimited possibilities” theme to today’s message, which runs more along the lines of “Failure is inevitable when you’re trying to do anything big. Learn from it and keep going.” How many times have we heard about the number of Edison’s failed attempts before inventing the light bulb? Federal leaders face two big problems when encountering the new normal … We will address both, and what you can do about them. The bonus is that in addressing these problems, there is the potential to build leadership capacity in your organization, and strengthen relationships with your team … Problem: Gradual Problems that Build-Up Over TimeThe first problem runs along the lines of “I made my bones coming up the way I did.” This translates as a leader having a sense of how things work, what works, and therefore what should be. As human beings, it is so comfortable to rely on what we have learned through experience. I sometimes say, “Oh, protect us from the things we learn.” The long-term perils of such thinking are fairly obvious. In systems thinking, it’s called “the boiled frog” syndrome. If you put a frog in hot water, it will hop out immediately. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and very slowly increase the heat – well, it’s going to be frog legs for dinner. Unfortunately, you are the boiled frog in this situation if you are failing to gather opinions from staff down the org chart. Especially, staff who could alert you to the gradual changes you may not be aware of. There is a large body of work now around how organizations are slow or even unable to detect changes that are “low and slow” versus immediate, shock-type events. So they keep on keeping on in what is sometimes called fighting last year’s war. Solution: Leverage the knowledge of your team to detect gradual change earlyIt is hard to hear, but the fact is potentially the most important and valuable information can...

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Play Dumb to Get What You Want: The Question Tactic in Negotiation

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Negotiation skills aren’t just for entrepreneurs on Shark Tank. Federal managers can also benefit from mastering these valuable skills. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, LeGette McIntyre offers some very specific tactics that could help any fed facing a tough negotiation. Here’s a great example from the book that McIntyre calls “The Question Tactic.” Try this in your next meeting and let us know your results. THE QUESTION TACTIC In any negotiation, knowledge is power. You increase your power relative to the other side as you increase your knowledge about it. Use questions to probe for answers that will increase your information about the other side. Dig for more information about its position, interests, needs, hidden agendas, and so forth. In a negotiation, acting dumb is smart! When you ask questions, you tap into the tendency for people to want to help out folks they regard as less informed or less intelligent than they are. It makes them feel important. So ask questions that make the other side feel superior, such as, “I’m not sure I fully grasp all the intricacies in your proposal. Would you mind explaining them to me again?” Or, “I know the dollars you are proposing are backed up with sound facts, but for some reason I’m just not getting it. Can you explain to me how you came up with these figures?” Notice that you are asking for help in both these examples. Get in the habit of asking that all-important question, “Can you help me…?” That’s almost guaranteed to trigger the human need for the other side to feel smart and superior, and the negotiators will give you information they otherwise wouldn’t have. You also should use questions to test the credibility of the “facts” the other side is asserting. Get good at asking open-ended questions that start with “how,” what,” “what else,” “which,” and “why.” Some examples: “How did you come up with those figures?” They now have to defend their position with additional facts, and remember, any additional information shifts power. “What would you do if you were in my shoes and someone gave you that choice?” This has the added benefit of bringing them around to your side, even if it’s just a little bit. “What is really important to you?” Always follow up with “what else is important?” If they see you as caring for their position, they are likely to be more open sharing information with you. Then, ask them “which of these things is more important to you?” This gives you insight into their “must” and “give” positions. Test their credibility by asking “why do you think that position is fair?” That puts them on the defensive to justify their position. Notice that all these questions are open-ended and can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or with some finite fact. They require elaboration, which will give you more information. Closed-ended questions run the risk of eliciting a simple answer and nothing more. For example, if you ask, “Don’t you think your price is a little too high?” they may answer with a simple “no.” That doesn’t give you much information. If you ask “when will you be able to deliver?” they can answer with one date. Again, you aren’t gaining useful information....

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The Workplace Wisdom of Christopher Robin

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were finally getting around to cleaning out the coat closet when we stumbled on our kids’ baby books. As we leafed through the pages of memories, I ran across a snapshot of my son carrying a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal.  I was reminded of how central Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood were for several years of our lives.  Thinking back on that time, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes when Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The coincidence of turning up this memory, while at the same time reading Clive Thompson’s recent book, Smarter than You Think (perhaps Thompson is a Milne devotee), jump started an interesting chain of thought.  In his book, Thompson sets out to counter the “alarmists” who insist that the prevalence of technology is negatively impacting society’s intellectual capacity and abilities.  Building his argument from extensive anecdotal evidence, Thompson makes the case that technology is enabling us to outsource cognitive processes that can be limited and inefficient, to grow the tacit knowledge that is embedded in our social networks, and to benefit from increased multiplicity by connecting us more readily with others who share our niches of interest and expertise.  While Thompson lacks strong empirical evidence to support his premises, the points he raises about technology’s impact on learning should prompt training and learning professionals to examine how their training programs have changed (or should change) in response to the growing use of technology. The emergency of the “common core” and a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the primary education system has opened up a wide ranging discussion on how we educate children. But that conversation has yet to really translate into the world of corporate and, especially, Federal Government training. So, here are a few tips that will help you build a training program that considers how technology is changing the way we think about intelligence and training. Take advantage of technology’s capabilities  We’ve all been through training courses where we’re forced to memorize chapter and verse of one particular policy or another. Now that most people have smartphones with more computing power than early computers (TRS-80, anyone?), there’s rarely a need for rote memorization. Instead of focusing on storage and retrieval of information, teach smart search strategies and “library” skills so learners can more readily navigate the vast amount of online information and efficiently locate the salient information they need to execute their job responsibilities. Focus on networking and relationship building skills Training events offer a great opportunity for participants to make new connections. Building connections in the workplace has numerous benefits ranging from increased engagement and reduced turnover to improvements in collaboration and team performance. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and distributed, building relationships with coworkers and developing professional networks that can augment individual expertise can be challenging.  Take advantage of the power of collocation during your training events and intentionally teach the skills and techniques for building productive work relationships. Minimize problem solving and maximize problem definition While the ability to solve problems is important...

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Speak Up! Better Requirements Management at the Heart of Federal IT Project Success

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent article, Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, highlights the ongoing issue of government clearly defining what it needs in IT projects, and ensuring the contractor understands exactly what is needed.  Otherwise known as?  A better discussion on requirements – to avoid the Healthcare.gov or SBInets of the future. Particularly difficult are coming to agreements on the large-scale IT project requirements.  Due to the government acquisition process, more often than not the technology itself moves faster than government implementation, causing add-ins and adjustments to requirements along the way.  So Feds and industry must work better together to ensure success. But as government cannot completely rely on contractors, Waldron goes on to say:  “Requirements development has been an Achilles’ heel for 20 years now.  The best, most effective way for the government to acquire high-level, best-value contractor performance in support of agency missions is through improved requirements development.” Top Pitfalls in Requirements Detailed in The Project Management Answer Book, government and its contractors should together remain aware of all requirements throughout a project lifecycle – from the first step through testing to eventual completion.  Some of the top pitfalls include: Not putting sufficient effort into securing the proper requirements from the customer – don’t assume you know what the customer wants; ASK Being too much of a yes-man – be realistic to avoid scope creep Failing to implement a strong change management system – all new or updated projects are in fact, a change.  Change management needs to be a focus throughout the project Not scheduling scope verifications with the customer and performing contractor – both in the initial stages, but also throughout the project; you must ensure everyone is on the same page The New York Times recently highlighted that very issue for Healthcare.gov, noting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor failed at communicating effectively regarding securing all requirements along the project lifecycle.  This ultimately led to a well-publicized failure at launching (on-time) a successful, completed project that included ALL aspects of the initial requirements CMS provided.  Don’t get caught in a misunderstanding of the vital requirements your project needs for successful completion.  Whether you are a Fed running the project, or the contractor supporting, requirements management is a key skill set to enable you to finish on time, on budget, and without compromise.  Leaders in government have only highlighted that Healthcare.gov is merely one example of the need for better overall success in large IT projects as we move to 2014, and mutual misunderstanding of the requirements has been a major pitfall thus far.  It’s bound to get more intense as we continue this open government focus to citizens – don’t let your agency launch another troubled project; focus on requirements management to get the job done....

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Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership | 1 comment

Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

What if you’re representing your agency in the middle of a negotiation with a contractor and you reach a deadlock? What can you do to keep the negotiation moving forward—and to gain the competitive advantage? In his book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers the “set-aside” tactic as an effective way to keep things moving in your favor. Has this tactic ever worked for you? Is there a chance it could backfire? THE SET-ASIDE TACTIC Deadlocks happen in negotiations, and the set-aside tactic is specifically designed to break deadlocks. Whenever the other side insists on a number or an issue that deadlocks the negotiation, simply acknowledge the contractor’s position and suggest setting it aside for a while and moving on to other issues. Say something like, “I can tell this issue is important to you, and it’s obvious we’re pretty far apart on it. To keep the negotiation moving, let’s set that issue aside for the moment and see if we can’t get some of these other issues out of the way.” If the other side is truly interested in reaching an agreement, it will always agree. Then restart the momentum of the negotiation by getting agreement on many of the smaller (or noncontroversial) issues. This gets both sides into the swing of the give-and-take of the negotiation again. And the more you agree on issues, the more the other side will be under pressure to keep the ball rolling and continue to agree. After you have reconditioned the other side back into the habit of saying “yes,” reintroduce your tabled issue. Chances are, the other side is now more willing to come to some agreement on it—to meet you more than halfway—to continue the momentum of the negotiation. What if the other side uses the set-aside tactic on you? How can you counter the tactic fairly and effectively? First, don’t be too hasty to counter an offer at all. Setting aside the sticky issue may be just as healthy and appropriate for your side as it is for the contractor. You can also reverse the effects of the tactic by simply taking it over. If the other side proposes to set an issue aside, say something like, “Fine. Let’s table this issue until later and see if we can get some agreement on all these other points. Let’s have a caucus and I’ll rearrange our agenda so we can get to these other issues.” Keep in mind the most powerful counter to the set-aside tactic: You are the government, so you control the agenda and the negotiation. Don’t let the other side take away this powerful inherent advantage you enjoy. When a contractor pulls out the set-aside, you get to reset the agenda and now can order the revised agenda to encourage agreement on minor issues to build momentum and create time investment. You can literally hijack the other side’s own tactic! Of course, you can also disagree to set aside the issue and continue the negotiation if you feel it is in your interest to do so. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation by LeGette McIntyre, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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OMB Officials Discuss the Proposed Uniform Guidance

Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Financial Management, Grants & Assistance | 0 comments

OMB officials discussed the proposed “Super Circular” today at the monthly National Grant Management Association (NGMA) training luncheon held in Washington, D.C. The officials discussed some of the proposed changes that would affect grants management, with one official labeling the entire process Extreme Makeover: OMB Edition. The “Super Circular,” known formally as the Uniform Guidance: Cost Principles, Audit, and Administrative Requirements for Federal Awards, is a proposal to consolidate all current regulations for grants management into a single location that would apply uniformly to all recipient entities. The purpose of the proposal is to streamline grants management by reducing administrative burdens on recipients. During the presentation at the training luncheon, OMB officials discussed some of the more than 30 regulation changes found in the Guidance. The presentation primarily focused on the proposed changes to the Cost Principles, specifically the ability for select entities to choose a flat 10% modified total direct cost standard rate and the reduction in administrative burdens, and to audit requirements, with a significant amount of time devoted to discussing changes to compliance requirements. The officials stressed the Guidance is only a set of proposals and that public comment will be critical in shaping the provisions and language used in the final rule. The presenters urged the attendees to submit comments to help advise OMB in developing the final regulations. To provide additional opportunity for the grants community to have a role in the process, OMB announced the deadline for public comments has been extended to June 2nd. To comment on the Guidance, visit the Regulations.gov docket here. OMB released the proposed Guidance on February 1st in the Federal Register and plans to publish the final rule by the end of this year. The final rule will be published simultaneously in the Federal Register and 2 CFR. Agencies will adopt the regulations, by reference, in 2 CFR. According to OMB, the final rule should be fully implemented by mid-2014 and recipients with continuing awards will be required to adhere to the regulations at the beginning of the following fiscal year, which starts October 2014. The Uniform Guidance is a major topic in Management Concept’s one-day Federal Grants Update 2013 seminar.  The seminar provides students with a detailed explanation of the structure of the Uniform Guidance and of all the proposed changes that will affect federal agencies, grant recipients, and pass-through entities. In addition, the seminar also includes other topics such as the increased emphasis on program assessments and performance measurements in grants management, recent legislative and regulatory changes affecting grants administration, and the latest developments regarding the federal budget and sequestration. To register for the course, visit the Federal Grants Update 2013 seminar’s webpage located...

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Risk Tolerance

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Financial Management, Project Management | 0 comments

What can I say about risk that hasn’t already been said? Let’s look at one tiny aspect, risk tolerance. Risk tolerance is an organization’s or individual’s willingness to operate in an uncertain environment. Individual Risk Tolerance Each of us has risk tolerance we display every day. Some personal individual risk tolerance examples are: Do you leave the house early for an appointment just in case there is unexpected traffic? Do you watch the weather channel to determine when to rise, or what route to take? Do you drive the speed limit? Do you lay out your clothes for the next day to avoid color issues, and increase your speed to departure? What about as a Project Manager? In the Management Concepts Project Risk Management course you are asked to assess yourself against a traits checklist, by choosing the traits which agree with your style: Taking risks makes good sense only in the absence of acceptable alternatives I generally prefer stimulation over security I have confidence in my ability to recover from my mistakes, no matter how big I would commit to someone with unlimited potential, but limited experience to a key position over someone with limited potential, but more experience Anything worth doing is worth doing less than perfectly I believe opportunity generally knocks only once It is better to ask for permission than to beg for forgiveness Success in management is as much a matter of luck as ability Given a choice, I would choose a $3,000 annual raise over a $10,000 bonus that I have a one-in-three chance of winning The exercise is revealing in that it helps us to recognize our personal risk tolerance, and that others in the room can be different. There is no one right answer, as this is a personal trait, and tolerance is required. I live in a small town in the Rocky Mountains which has casinos. Many people come to town each day in order to take a chance at winning big money. Most of them don’t, but they are willing to take the risk. I am not a gambler and don’t enjoy the sport, but there are many people who do. Our risk tolerance is different and individual. Even the gamblers have different risk tolerances. Some will only play the penny or nickel machines while others play the dollar machines or sit at the card tables. There is risk aplenty for all tolerances! Organizational Risk Tolerance Organizations also have a risk tolerance. There are many questions to ask in order to discern the organizational risk tolerance: What’s the value of time to market for the product? Are there regulatory penalties in non-compliance? How much market share is at stake? What reputation issues exist? Can we afford to be right/wrong? Will the budget support this risk? What will the CEO (or any CXO) think? Often there are values and decisions which exceed our personal experiences at work in organizational risk tolerance. Review the history of an IBM, Google, Tylenol, or Odwalla to see how risk tolerance can differ across organizations. Project Risk Tolerance The intersection of your risk tolerance and organizational risk tolerance happens at the project. Since you may not be able to understand the risk tolerance of the entire organization, you must start with the sponsor. The sponsor...

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The Sequester is Here

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance | 0 comments

Barring a last minute compromise, the  sequester will become a reality tonight. In preparation for the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, OMB released a memo yesterday detailing the effect of the sequester on important government functions. Included in the memo is an explanation of how grant funding will be impacted. The excerpt from the memo about financial assistance is provided below. “Given the widespread use of grants, loans, and other Federal financial assistance to non-federal entities (e.g., State, local and tribal, non-profit organizations, and companies), sequestration will impact the funding of these activities. As a general matter, agencies should ensure that any new financial assistance obligations or funding increase under existing agreements are consistent with the need to protect the agency’s mission at the post-sequestration level. In light of sequestration, agencies may also consider delaying awarding of new financial assistance obligations, reducing levels of continued funding, and renegotiation or reducing the current scope of assistance. Agencies may be forced to reduce the level of assistance provided through formula funds or block grants. Should any such steps be necessary, agencies should evaluate the associated costs and benefits of such actions and appropriately engage and inform recipient(s) as early as possible.” A link to the full memo can be found here:...

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