Understanding the Agency Financial Report and its Components
If you have not read an agency financial report (AFR) for a government agency before, some of the terms may be confusing. This frequently asked questions section will help you better understand GSA's AFR. For more detailed definitions and information on federal financial reporting, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) offers a glossary of terms [PDF], the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) provides guidance on government accounting and reporting, and the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Circular A-136 [PDF] lists AFR reporting requirements.
The Chief Financial Officer Act of 1990 requires GSA to prepare annual reports containing audited financial statements and performance reporting. OMB provides detailed guidance regarding the contents and formats to be used for these annual reports. Following that guidance, GSA prepares this AFR and a separate Annual Performance Report.
Agency financial reports can be daunting to read and understand. You can get a big picture understanding of GSA by reviewing the following parts of the AFR:
- The Management's Discussion and Analysis section is where agency leadership provides general background information about the agency — including the organizational structure, the mission, and activities of our major programs' financial and performance results — and identifies factors that may affect the agency's operations. As discussed in the auditors report, it is important to note that this section of the AFR is not audited by the independent auditor to reach any opinion on its accuracy or completeness.
- The Financial Section includes the Independent Auditors' Report, the financial statements, and the notes to the financial statements, and lays out the agency's financial performance for the year.
- The independent auditors' report provides the context behind the audit testing performed and the results of that testing, including whether the auditor found the financial statements to be presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for federal reporting entities.
- The financial statements provide GSA's financial results, including the balance sheets, the statements of net cost, the statements of changes in net position, and the statements of budgetary resources.
- The notes to the financial statements provide additional details and context concerning the balances reported in the financial statements.
- The Other Information section is where you can find other relevant information about the agency, including the agency's compliance with laws and regulations. This section of the AFR is also not audited by the independent auditors.
Footnotes are important because they further explain certain financial statement line items, including information about methodology used for calculations, valuation, time period, and other data that help the reader gain a better understanding of the agency.
With the unique missions and purposes of federal agencies, financial reporting focuses on elements such as stewardship over assets, responsibilities for various liabilities, the cost of program activities, and the budgetary control process. Because of these unique operations, there is also a distinct set of accounting standards applicable to federal Government reporting.
One difference between commercial companies and federal agencies is that the federal agencies do not exist to generate profit. In fact, unlike GSA, most federal activities do not generate revenues to fund program operations, and instead depend upon authorization and appropriation acts to provide the financial resources to operate.
According to GAO, the objectives of federal financial reports are for agencies to demonstrate their accountability, provide useful information, and help internal users of financial information to improve the Government's management. You should bear in mind that our goal is to demonstrate good financial stewardship over the assets entrusted to us, whereas readers of private industry financial statements may have an interest in investing in a company and want assurances that the information provided is timely, accurate, and can be relied upon to assess their investment value.
Yes, GSA follows the requirements of U.S. GAAP for federal financial reporting. The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board is designated by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants as the source of GAAP for federal reporting entities, and issues the accounting standards and principles for the United States Government.
The balance sheet shows the agency's assets and liabilities at a fixed point in time. Most of the terms on the balance sheet are familiar to users of financial statements (e.g., assets, such as accounts receivable, property, and equipment; and liabilities, such as accounts payable and actuarial liability). On a federal balance sheet, there are a number of unique terms, like "Fund Balance with Treasury" and "Intragovernmental Liabilities." The Fund Balance with Treasury is akin to a bank account balance; the fund balances represent the amount of money in the agency's accounts within the U.S. Treasury that is available to spend on projects and expenses for which Congress approved the funds. Intragovernmental liabilities result from business activities conducted between two federal government entities.
The statement of net cost shows the results of operations for the major business areas of GSA. It displays revenues earned during the fiscal year for goods and services provided to customers and subtracts expenses incurred to operate our programs to arrive at net cost. A commercial company would call this type of document an income statement. As a reflection that most federal programs generate little to no resources on their own, expenses are offset by revenues to determine the net cost for the agency.
The statement of changes in net position is similar to a statement of changes in equity for a commercial firm. The statement reflects the impact that the sources and uses of resources have on the financial position of each fund. During FY 2021, GSA generated resources from operations (the net revenues or cost from the statement of net cost), received appropriations, used appropriations, and transferred funds or property to (or from) the Treasury and other federal agencies. The statement of changes in net position also reports imputed financing provided by others. This is related to imputed costs (see below), where federal budgeting practices provide funding for payment of certain program costs centrally but the benefit is received by GSA. Imputed financing represents the amount of these resources others will provide that offsets amounts GSA recorded as imputed costs during the fiscal year.
Consistent with accounting standards, GSA records imputed costs for expenses it incurs where funding will be provided by other federal entities.
The statement of budgetary resources is unique to the federal government and it displays the key components of the budgetary control process. The statement shows the various sources of budgetary authority and resources provided to fund agency activities; how much of the total resources were used during the year; and how much was left unspent at the end of the year. Private industry has no similar statement or set of requirements to establish and control budgets in this manner, but there are similarities with budgeting concepts used and reported by U.S. State and local governments.
Appropriation means a provision of law (not necessarily in an appropriations act) authorizing the expenditure of funds for a given purpose. This term is often used to describe the amount of money received or approved for the stated purposes. For a more detailed explanation of appropriations and the federal budget process, you can read OMB's guidance document, Circular A-11 [PDF].
In federal budgeting and financial management, an obligation means a binding agreement that will result in outlays, immediately or in the future. For example, an agency incurs an obligation when it places an order, signs a contract, purchases a service, or takes other actions that require the government to make payments to the public or from one government account to another.
In the federal government, outlays primarily represent payments made to liquidate obligations of an agency and are referred to as gross outlays. On the statement of budgetary resources, gross outlays generally are equal to cash disbursements. On the statement of budgetary resources, net outlays are the sum of gross outlays minus cash collections received where GSA is reimbursed for goods and services it provides. Net outlays may reflect negative amounts when collections exceed disbursements in a fiscal year. This result is not unusual in revolving funds such as the Federal Buildings Fund and Acquisition Services Fund. Outlays are a primary measure of government spending.
The unobligated balance is the portion of total budget authority provided as financial resources, where no actions have been taken to spend or obligate funding to pay for goods or services, nor bind the government to pay liabilities. Limitations in laws also create further categorization of unobligated balances into amounts being "available" to spend on new obligations, "unavailable" due to various limitations, or "expired" and no longer available for new obligations. Congress often provides agencies with funds to obligate or spend in one fiscal year (starting October 1 and ending September 30). These funds are referred to as a one-year appropriation, and the budget authority expires and can no longer be used to incur new obligations after September 30 of the year the appropriation was made.
Congress may also provide agencies with authority to obligate funds over 2 or more years, referred to as multi-year funds, or may not limit the amount of time funding remains available, known as no- year funds.
Cumulative results of operations are a component of net position on balance sheets, and they represent the historical total for a fund—summing revenues, expenses, gains, losses, transfers of assets and liabilities from other agencies, and other financing sources provided to a fund since its inception. It is similar in concept to retained earnings for a commercial firm.