To the editor:
The federal government needs fiscal leadership. Without so much as a basic checkbook - and without reconciling receipts and expenses - the government can't really know how much money is taken in, how much is spent and what is left over, if anything. That makes the already difficult task of balancing a budget nearly impossible.One of the first things people do when they start to earn money is to learn about checking accounts - how to use one and how to make it balance. Unfortunately, our government representatives haven't yet done this, even though the government started collecting income taxes in the early 1900s. The federal government is operating in the dark when it comes to managing its money.
Finally, a few people in Congress and the private sector are insisting that the government manage its money and let the public see the balance sheet. Senators John Glenn, D-Ohio, and William Roth, R-Del., recently introduced a bill that would establish a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the United States, responsible for "the development of systems that provide complete, accurate and timely financial information." The bill would also require better "financial discipline and accountability" through annual financial statements from each agency and mandatory independent audits.
In addition, John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, is planning to introduce a bill to create a CFO.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants (UACPA) are enthusiastic about these bills but would like to see legislation go even further. To be effective, any bill must give the CFO sufficient authority to exercise fiscal responsibility, provide the base for amassing reliable financial data and enable stringent controls to be enforced on the government agencies.
A special AICPA task force also recommends that the CFO report annually on the country's fiscal management, issue annual financial statements at the department level and governmentwide and obtain annual independent audits of these statements.
The most significant ramification of this complete revamping of federal financial management is that the government will be forced into being a better business manager. Sound financial practices will help prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars from fraud and mismanagement. Remember "Robin HUD?" That kind of debacle should never happen. And how about the Defense Department buying equipment and parts identical to those already in inventory because it doesn't know it has them?
When all is said and done, the bottom line is that the government has to make sure it takes in more money than it spends. Reliable accounting records won't improve the government's financial condition. They will just reflect what the true condition is, so that our representatives in Washington can make informed decisions about spending and revenue.
It's time for Uncle Sam to open his checking account. Every citizen of this country has a right to see that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and to demand that the government account for its money.
Reed E. Pew, president
Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants