Most local and state level governments in the United States belong to networks and organizations that promote cooperation and the exchange of knowledge to strengthen subnational fiscal management (SFM). One of the leading of such organizations is the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).
Since subnational governments in Latin America and the Caribbean face important challenges regarding SFM, we have invited Emily Brock, Director of GFOA’s Federal Liaison Center, to share more information about the GFOA and the experience of the organization on achieving better subnational fiscal management through networks. Here´s a summary of our conversation.
What is the GFOA and how is it structured?
For over 112 years, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has focused on the professional management of governments. We are a non-profit, non-governmental, 19,680 members organization of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) at the local and state levels. We operate through a fee structure: we receive most of our operating revenues by virtue of the fees we collect annually from our organization members. We then use those fees towards our mission, which is to promote government excellence in municipal finance. How? we have a process which relies heavily on our members volunteering and providing content, but it also allows them to have ownership of the mission.
What kind of financial/fiscal training programs does the GFOA provide for its members?
We have three different types of training programs:
- We offer in-person training programs throughout the United States. We make sure that, regionally, people have access to our in-person training on a variety of topics, from treasury management to debt management to budgeting practices;
- We provide webinars or web-based streaming trainings, which are widely popular offerings. For instance, 5,000 people have signed up for our Government Accounting Standards Update course. We also have a Better Budgeting webinar, which gets about 1,500 people viewing at the same time;
- Our pinnacle training is our annual conference, where we host 10,000 members in a location designated five years in advance. Members who participate in our annual conference can earn up to 20 continuing professional education credits (CPE’s), which means a lot to those who maintain professional credentials.
Does the GFOA offer certification to its members for successfully completing any of its programs?
About 60 percent of our members maintain a Certified Professional Accounting (CPA) license, yet the rest -roughly 8,000 people- don’t have a CPA.
So, in 1994, in response to the demand of members without a CPA who wanted professional certification, we created the Certified Public Finance Officer (CPFO) program. This program consists on a series of five exams, on topics such as debt, pensions, treasury and budgeting, that allow us to certify those officers who have mastered these areas of public finance.
How does the GFOA identify best practices or lessons learned from your programs?
We are well known for our best practices. We publish them online, for free, and maintain an updated database of about 188 best practices across various disciplines of public finance. Most of them are available in English and French.
We create and maintain these best practices through committee work. We have seven different committees in our organization, and each committee has 25 members developing or updating best practices in diverse topics. For instance, our most recently published best practice in debt management is related to better understanding the different types of legal counseling available when issuing debt.
Does the GFOA organize or promote any activities to keep its members interested and the organization itself relevant?
Besides our trainings and our annual conference, we also ask our standing committee members to come to Washington D.C. to lobby our federal decision makers. This is a very popular program because it allows our finance officers to have direct interaction with their elected officials, and it allows them to inform them about their work in their respective local governments.
We also conduct research. Some of it is Congressionally motivated. For instance, when the tax reform bill came in 2017, we produced and prepared a lot of research in response to that debate. Some of it is member driven on topics such as lean budgeting or on diverse approaches to the budgeting process. All our research publications are available on our website.
Do you have any message for subnational governments in Latin America and the Caribbean?
At the GFOA, we have maintained a very successful international partnership program for about 20 years with organizations in diverse countries such as Israel, Sweden and Brazil. We would like to deepen our cooperation with these countries and to broaden our partnerships to share best practices with other countries too.
Which of the Government Finance Officers Association’s activities do you find more interesting? Add your comments below.
This is the second blog in the series “Networks for decentralization and subnational fiscal management”. If you are interested in these topics, we invite you to follow our next publications, and to read our interview to Sean Dougherty, Head of the Secretariat of the OECD Network on Fiscal Relations across Levels of Government, who shared the OECD experience.