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Maintaining and Assuring the Quality of Financial Data

 

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM EARLY
CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER


GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT INVESTIGATIONS AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

SEPTEMBER 30, 1999

 

Good morning. My name is Bill Early and I am the Chief Financial Officer of the General Services Administration. I am accompanied today by Fred Alt, the Chief Financial Officer of the Public Buildings Service, which is the real estate and construction arm of GSA.

The subject of today's hearing, maintaining and assuring the quality of financial data, is very important to GSA. Since virtually all of our activities are funded through payments we receive from our customers, that is, from other Federal agencies, we need complete and reliable financial information to operate. In this way, we strongly resemble a private business and must watch our finances very carefully.

Like a private business, we have our annual financial statements audited by an outside accounting firm. I am proud to report that GSA has always received an unqualified opinion from these accounting firms. This means that the data produced by our accounting system and the controls governing our financial transactions are sufficient for the auditors to render an opinion on the accuracy of our financial statements. Simply put, it means that the Congress and the taxpayers can rely on financial data from GSA.

In saying that our financial data is reliable I am not saying that it is perfect. The thousands of transactions that flow through the multi-billion dollar Federal Buildings Fund and the other funds we manage are handled correctly the vast majority of the time. That does not mean that there are no errors. However, on a day-to-day basis, what legitimately needs to be paid gets paid, what legitimately needs to be collected is collected. Accurate and reliable financial data results from correctly processed transactions.

Three years ago, the Administrator declared "measurements" to be one of GSA's operational priorities. That has led us to demand more of our computer systems and replace legacy systems with more robust, modern information systems. The results have been dramatic. Analytical awareness has grown. Financial information is an integral component of decision making throughout the organization. These factors have, in turn, led to an awareness of data quality and efforts to improve and maintain data quality.

We have undertaken several initiatives in recent years to improve data quality, timeliness, and accessibility. We are expanding our focus on accurate accounting and record keeping to providing better financial management tools. My objective is to get the right data in the hands of the right people at the right time. If GSA employees are supported in this way, they can take appropriate action as events happen rather than trying to explain problems after the fact. One example of these analytic tools is what we call InfoWizard. This system enables GSA employees to quickly obtain income and expense information for individual GSA buildings through their desktop computer.

I understand that the Subcommittee has a particular interest in the financial data quality of the Public Buildings Service. I have a few general remarks and Fred Alt is here to address your specific questions.

Approximately two years ago, PBS implemented a new, commercial off-the-shelf computer system called STAR or System for Tracking and Administering Real Property. This system updated hardware and software and consolidated a number of databases from old legacy systems. Initially there were problems with the data quality of STAR, as has been recognized by the GSA Inspector General and others. It is important to note that data inherited from the older systems caused the vast majority of the problems.

Within the last year, PBS has put a priority on improving their inventory and billing data. They established a Task Force on Data Quality and conducted a massive clean-up of the old data. Several months ago they devised a metric to measure the data quality of each PBS region and instituted rigorous performance measurement including the involvement of the Commissioner. These actions are intended to keep the quality of the data high. In the near future, PBS intends to train PBS employees so that maintaining and using sound data will become a strong part of our culture.

Finally, with the start of the new fiscal year, GSA is implementing the first phase of a new core financial management system referred to as Pegasys. This commercial off-the-shelf system will bring transaction processing capability to the point where transactions are created. A clear benefit of this is reduction of errors associated with data input.

We envision the implementation of Pegasys being a multi-phase process. At present we are evaluating the remaining phases of the project to make certain we are getting good value for the taxpayer and that costs are contained.

That concludes my opening statement. Fred Alt and I would be happy to answer your questions.