Nonie Dalton
Nonie DaltonProduct Manager, Public Sector, ACL
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Recently, the Association of Government Auditors (AGA) held their annual Professional Development and Training Event (PDT) in Anaheim. The AGA PDT brings together government financial professionals including accountants, auditors, compliance and risk managers, inspector generals and CFOs.

I know what you’re thinking: four days in Anaheim hearing about government finance is going to require a lot of coffee. Before attending my first AGA event I had similar thoughts. But I was wrong. I discovered at AGA a passionate group of financial professionals, who love serving their country and are managing some of the world’s largest budgets within complex organizations.

Here are my top four takeaways from AGA PDT 2016:

1. If you think you don’t have an improper payments problem, you aren’t looking.

Sounds harsh, but unfortunately the reality is that unless you are looking at 100% of transactions, you aren’t getting the full story. The AGA PDT had many sessions dedicated to discussing improper payments.

For me, the biggest “aha!” moment came on day four. During the session on fraud risk, I caught a glimpse of the tug-of-war that agencies experience balancing the needs of providing benefits to those in need with ensuring accountability to taxpayers. This balancing act leads to the existing ‘pay now, chase later’ model for managing improper payments in order for people to get the benefits on-time. Other key insights include:

  • Fighting fraud, waste and abuse requires the monitoring of 100% of transactions with advanced analytic tools. Excel just doesn’t cut it!
  • Data requires continuous monitoring to flag exceptions as early as possible. It costs less to stop a payment before it happens then to chase down a repayment later.
  • Reconciliation processes need automation, to ensure your ‘boots on the ground’ investigators efforts are focused on the highest risks.
  • Leverage the analytic tools that major financial institutions already have in place to identify potential fraud, waste and abuse in your purchase card (P-Card) programs.
  • Fraud is what makes the news, but waste and abuse need equal attention and are likely your bigger problem. Examine your data to identify areas to improve policy compliance documentation and opportunities for more education.
  • Bias Alert! It was cool to hear ACL mentioned many times as recommended software to help combat fraud, waste and abuse. Our customers use our software for advanced analytics, continuous monitoring programs and reconciliation automation.

2. If you are spending government funds, you need to know about the DATA Act.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act is one cool non-partisan initiative that promises to transform the world’s largest organization with a unified open data set. You don’t need to be a data nerd like me to appreciate the DATA Act and its vision for spending transparency and data standardization.

Speakers presented many benefits of the DATA Act across several sessions. Benefits include: better managing fraud waste and abuse, increasing public trust and program integrity, and providing better oversight of government spending. Yet, it was the challenges of implementing such a large-scale transformative change that stood out:

  • Implementation has a short time line. May 8th, 2017 is the key milestone for federal agencies to begin their reporting using the government-wide standards.
  • Sun-setting legacy reporting systems will be painful and expensive. New and old systems will overlap, resulting in duplicate efforts in the short term.
  • Ensuring accurate, timely and auditable data will impact and change performance audits and agency internal control frameworks. What changes and how is still unclear, but it’s on the radar.
  • Many agencies at the state and local levels are not looking at the DATA Act and the potential impacts their processes. They have time, but it a change requires the allocation of resources on this initiative.

3. If you aren’t managing your risks, you’re at risk.

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) has been a hot topic in government for a little while now, but it is moving from buzzword to practice.

The long-awaited OMB A-123 circular is out and requires that agencies adopt an ERM processes to continually monitor and assess agency-wide risks.

  • ERM is at risk of becoming a compliance exercise; “ticking the box” does not make an effective an ERM program. Risk, audit and compliance professionals need to continually look at the impact of risks holistically and use their professional judgement.
  • ERM is not just for agencies who need to follow OMB A-123. Every level of government can benefit from ERM. King County, Washington provided an excellent overview of what they learned while implementing their own ERM process, demonstrating that with the right champions, leadership and resources, ERM can successfully be put into practice at any level of government.

4. Everyone loves purple pens with purple ink!

OK, I made this last one up. But from the unscientific sampling of people visiting the ACL booth, I found that most people loved discovering that our ACL pens had purple ink.

We made a lot of new connections, learned a lot, and had a good time. It was an extra bonus meeting so many of our customers face-to-face. Thank you AGA! PDT 2016 was awesome (see photos below). We look forward to seeing everyone in Boston for the AGA PDT 2017!

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