While CFO is written primarily for private-sector executives, we sometimes find it useful to look at the challenges facing CFOs in other spheres. If in the private sector CFOs can be said to operate at the juncture of Main Street and Wall Street, in the public sector they work at the intersection of finance and federal policy.
While these men and women may lack the clout of their private-sector counterparts — the ability to drive strategic change at a fast pace, for example — their forecasts, financial stewardship, and managerial talents have far-reaching, even life-altering, consequences.
Take Jimmy Norris, the new CFO of the Veterans Benefits Administration. As senior editor John Goff reports in our cover story, “Support Our Ex-Troops,” Norris’s agency has experienced an unanticipated surge in demand for its services as the latest war sends thousands of recent veterans in search of benefits, even as older veterans initiate new or expanded claims of their own.
While a spike in demand for services is a circumstance familiar to many in the private sector, Norris and his comrades are attempting to meet that demand in the face of enormous political pressure to cut costs. Indeed, the Administration reportedly aims to cut veterans’ health-care funding in its 2009 budget.
Norris must find resources and install process improvements in a massive bureaucracy even as badly injured troops returning from Iraq threaten to swamp the system. If he can’t, veterans will suffer real hardships. As Goff says, “In reporting the story, I discovered that one-fourth of the homeless population in the U.S. are veterans.”
As a child of the Air Force, with one brother having served in Vietnam and a nephew flying missions in Afghanistan, Goff has an intimate understanding of the military culture that underpins Norris’s work at the VBA. In Goff’s words: “In his address dedicating the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln noted that it was ‘altogether fitting and proper’ that the nation honor its departed heroes. The hard part, it seems to me, is honoring those who remain.”