The User's Perspective

Summer 2013

A Message from GASB Chairman David A. Vaudt

            I am delighted to have the opportunity to address users of governmental financial statements through The User’s Perspective. As you may know, for the ten years before I was appointed chairman of the GASB, I served as the elected State Auditor of Iowa. Prior to that, I was a partner with KPMG, where I worked extensively with government clients. I look forward to leveraging these experiences in my new GASB role.

            I do not think it is an overstatement to say that what we do at the GASB is ultimately done with the user in mind. Establishing and improving standards of state and local governmental accounting and financial reporting that result in decision-useful information for users is our mission. My predecessor as GASB chairman, Bob Attmore, understood the importance of communicating with users in plain language as part of our educational mission. As Iowa’s State Auditor, I employed a similar approach in communicating with taxpayers. Now, in my new role, it is one that I am committed to continuing and improving here at the GASB.

            Some of the primary channels that the GASB utilizes to inform users about the Board’s activities include publishing and updating the publications that make up the User Guide Series, issuing plain-language supplements on major proposals we are seeking your input on, posting plain-language articles on proposals and final standards, and publishing The User’s Perspective. Now, we have added user-centered webcasts to this list. Our first user-centered webcast will take place on September 5 and cover the recently issued due process documents on measurement concepts and fair value.

            A major revamp of the GASB website is planned to be launched later this year. The new version of the site will offer updated functionalities and new features including informative videos on important GASB topics. Watch the website for updates.

Initial Priorities

            Since I officially started my new job on July 1, I have been asked on a number of occasions to talk about my initial priorities as chairman of the GASB. The answer I always come back to is that this is not just about my priorities. We have a seven-member Board—so, it is more about the Board’s collective priorities.

            That said, I will share some of my personal thoughts. I strongly believe that we need the engagement of all of our key constituents in order to receive the kind of input and feedback that will continue to foster a spirit of openness and accessibility in our standards-setting process. In keeping with that notion, the GASB has just reached the decision to begin providing video webcasts of its Board meetings. Keep an eye on the GASB website for more information about our first video webcast, which is planned for the October Board meeting.

            Through meeting with our advisory council, the Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Council (GASAC), we have the opportunity to see which issues constituents view as the most pressing. This allows us to stay out in front of issues rather than having to react and play catch up.

            In addition to working with the organizations represented on the GASAC, I will also be striving to work strategically with organizations that have not provided us with much input in the past. It is evident to me that different levels of responsiveness can be observed in varying constituencies. It is my goal to reach out to our constituents who have not traditionally provided us with much feedback to see what issues are important to them and what is coming down the pike from their perspective that may warrant our attention. For example, the GASB has not typically received a great deal of feedback on proposals from elected legislators, and I think greater interactions with this segment of our constituency could be very valuable. We will also be engaging with smaller governments to see what we can do to draw more input from them.

            As the new GASB chairman, I think it is critical at this point in our 29-year history to (1) step back and take stock of where we are in terms of the guidance we have provided, (2) evaluate the accounting and financial reporting framework, (3) think about how the projects on our current agenda fit into today’s landscape, and then (4) take a deep breath before we press forward into new standards-setting projects. In addition, while I believe that the comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) issued by many governments provide indispensible information, they have become very lengthy documents. So lengthy, in fact, that all too many regular citizens may not even know how to approach them to find the information they care about. I would like to see what we can do make some improvements in the GASB required information within CAFRs and, at the same time, help promote more timely financial reporting among governments.

            In keeping with the types of ideas I have touched on above, I have begun conducting a listening tour. I want to encourage all constituents—both organizations and individuals—to engage in our process. Obviously, our advisory council members are an invaluable source of information. As a means of gathering additional, potentially broader input, I also want to work directly with constituents to obtain their perspective. In the end, everything we are working on is designed to make sure that the information available to users provides them with what they need to make sound decisions.

            In addition, one of the other things that we will work on together as a Board—after we have had a chance to hear broadly from our constituents—is an update of our strategic plan. The strategic plan will speak to how we can better address user needs going forward.

Concluding Thoughts

            Meeting users’ needs is of central importance at the GASB. The Board is committed to communicating with you about issues that are important to you, using language that resonates with you. We strive to bring all of the various viewpoints on any given issue together so we can get the best input before we start on a project and in order to receive the best feedback during our process. The feedback and input we obtain from stakeholders is so very important—we make the best decisions when we hear directly from you. That is why we consider your participation in the process so critical.

            I look forward to working with you on improving accounting and financial reporting in the government arena and to making sure we are meeting your information needs.