Spurning the CFO Act

The finance chief at the Department of Homeland Security wants ''a chance to do things our way.''

Some think it was just an oversight that the Department of Homeland Security, created two years ago, became the only cabinet-level agency not subject to the CFO Act of 1990. Indeed, bills in both houses of Congress now seek to apply the act to the DHS — which would require Senate approval for its CFO and setting standards for departmental audits. And the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls passage of the bills “of critical importance.”

One adamant opponent of applying the act at the DHS, though, is Andrew Maner, the agency’s CFO. “Everyone is quick to make us like the other departments,” he says, but they “ought to give [us] a chance to do things our way.” The DHS “way” has involved voluntarily launching an audit, though one lacking the complete internal-controls reviews the CFO Act mandates. And, of course, Maner’s appointment by President Bush didn’t require Senate approval.

Maner — former chief of staff to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, and before that a press officer for President George H.W. Bush — calls Senate confirmation “unnecessary” and potentially obstructive. The Defense Department, he notes, recently suffered through not having a controller because confirmation was held up. Besides, he asks, “What better way is there to do the job than to just get a CFO in and get things working?”

No one doubts that finance has worked hard to combine 22 agencies into one $40 billion department. “There’s no handbook that exists that tells you how to do this. We’re trying to integrate and get on one system,” says Maner. The voluntary audit, he adds, was a major achievement and identified material weaknesses now targeted for repair.

Still, in Sen. Peter Fitzgerald’s (R­Ill.) view, the DHS’s complexity is an argument for tougher controls in light of “the many challenges it faces in integrating the financial systems from its legacy components.” And auditing controls “is necessary because it places additional pressure on management to identify and correct [problems].” The GAO’s McCoy Williams, director of financial management and assurance, adds that the CFO Act should be “the gold standard” to follow.

But Maner is undeterred. “I’m just not sure of the cost-benefit of doing internal-controls audits in the public sector,” he says, noting that the GAO provides some of that function. He suggests an independent study to determine whether the advantages of such audits outweigh the disadvantages.

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