by Glenn Cheney
Norwalk, Conn. — Robert H. Attmore, recently elected to take the chair of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, has a goal that is both lofty and deceptively simple.
“We need to make governmental financial statements more understandable and more complete so that users have a better opportunity to figure out what’s really going on,” Attmore said. “Government financial statements, historically, have not been all that transparent or that easy to understand. The new accounting model is a big step in the right direction, but there’s more to be done.”
And when he officially assumes his new post on July 1, he will work toward making that a reality.
The new accounting model, set in Statement 34, was developed under the 10-year chairmanship of Tom Allen, whose second term expires on June 30. He is not eligible for a third.
Statement 34 established a new model of governmental accounting. It requires financial statements with two separate parts — one showing the financial condition of the government as a whole, the other detailing fund accounts. It moves governments to accrual accounting. It also requires governments to report on the value of the infrastructure used to offer their services.
Allen likens the creation of that standard to climbing a mountain, and he can already see the next mountain — the one that Attmore will have to climb.
“The next challenge is to decide whether to include in financial statements information to help assess a government’s performance,” Allen said. “We have a research project — Service Efforts and Accomplishments — that deals with this. I don’t know whether GASB should set standards in that regard. In government, we don’t have such performance indicators as earnings per share. So how do we get an idea of the effectiveness or efficiency of government? Statement 34 gives us a baseline, but we don’t have anything to measure how effective or efficient a government is. That’s an even bigger hurdle than the one we cleared with Statement 34.”
As it happens, Attmore has been serving on GASB’s SEA task force. He already knows from the inside what he’s getting into.
Attmore faces several other heavy issues on the GASB technical agenda. By the third quarter of this year, the board hopes to issue an exposure draft of a proposed statement on derivatives and hedging, an issue that is sure to be complex, if not downright thorny.
By the time Attmore takes office, there may be outstanding exposure drafts on net assets and securitizations.
The board is also struggling to issue an exposure draft on part of its conceptual framework. It will determine certain communication methods — definitions of recognition and disclosures in financial statements — and may be issued by the time Attmore comes to the chair.
The board has also added to its agenda a crucial part of its conceptual framework — definitions of various concepts, such as transactions, measurement focus, basis of accounting, and specific elements of financial statements, including assets, liabilities, revenue, expense and expenditure. The board has yet to begin deliberations. The long-term objective is to issue an exposure draft in early 2006.
Attmore comes to the job with substantive experience. He worked for the State of New York for 23 years, reaching the position of deputy state comptroller. His colleagues there say that he was responsible for the state comptroller’s office being highly regarded in the accounting industry in terms of governmental operation, financial reporting and auditing.
“Bob is more than up for the job. He has been the absolute professional and so very knowledgeable in the world of accounting and auditing,” said Diana Jones Ritter, New York State executive deputy comptroller, who worked with Attmore for several years. “He has the ability to be visionary in the field, to understand how changes in technology and standards would impact organizations and having the vision to prepare organizations for those changes.”
Attmore has been active on GASB task forces for a number of years. He has also been treasurer of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, chair of several committees of the National State Auditors Association, and active in the American Institute of CPAs and similar organizations.
“I’ve been preparing for this [job] for the last three decades,” Attmore said.
Attmore is a firm believer in GASB’s mission and wants government financial information to work.
“I want to do the best I can to demystify government statements and do a better job on projects, like economic conditions reporting, which go beyond the traditional financial position,” he said. “I want to get into areas that address financial capacity and service capacity and that kind of thing, so that users of financial statements have an understanding of whether their governments are up to the challenge and will be able to continue to provide service at the level they’ve been providing it at in both service and fiscal capacities, and answer the question of whether we’re better off now than last year and whether current-year citizens are paying for current-year services, or are they passing the bill on to future generations?”
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