Project Pages

The User Guide Series

Project Description: The objective of this project is to update the GASB’s User Guide Series to encompass accounting and financial reporting standards issued since their publication in the early 2000s.

Status: Updates in process

The User Guide Series—Project Plan

Background:   In the late 1990s, the GASB initiated an effort to improve its relations with users of state and local government financial statements. The GASB’s first strategic plan, developed in 1997, included a variety of initiatives intended to communicate more meaningfully and effectively with users.

The issuance of Statement No. 34, Basic Financial Statements—and Management’s Discussion and Analysis—for State and Local Governments, was viewed as an ideal vehicle for many of the planned outreach and communication activities, including plain-language guides to government financial statements written for interested laypersons with little or no knowledge of or background in governmental accounting. The GASB ultimately published seven guides:

  • What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements
     
  • What You Should Know about Your School District’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements
     
  • The Quick Guide to Local Government Financial Statements
     
  • The Quick Guide to School District Financial Statements
     
  • The Quick Guide to State Government Financial Statements
     
  • An Analyst’s Guide to Government Financial Statements
     
  • What Else You Should Know about a Government’s Finances: A Guide to Notes to the Financial Statements and Supporting Information.

The local government and school district guides were written with the layperson in mind. The quick guides were distilled from those two longer guides and were prepared for legislators, council members, board members, and similar readers. The analyst’s guide and the disclosure guide were intended for persons with some experience using financial statements. Except for the disclosure guide, the user guides principally focused on the financial statements and described only those note disclosures and RSI that were introduced by Statement 34.

This project involves updating the user guides to incorporate GASB standards issued during the past decade and revising them to address issues raised by readers. The project ultimately will lead to the publication of a new series of four user guides to replace the original series:

  • What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements—This guide will cover standards issued since the original publication, discuss major note disclosures and RSI, and briefly address other types of disclosures and other parts of the financial report, such as the statistical section.
     
  • What You Should Know about Your School District’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements—This guide will be updated similarly to the local guide.
     
  • What You Should Know about the Finances of Your Governmental Business-Type Activity: A Guide to Financial Statements—This guide will be written on a level similar to that of the local government and school district guides, but will cover the business-type activity model.
     
  • An Analyst’s Guide to State and Local Government Financial Statements, Note Disclosures, and Supporting Information—This guide will update and combine the analyst’s and disclosure guides into a single guide that comprehensively covers a governmental financial report.

Issues:   The update and revision of the user guides would entail the following:

1. Removing the context of the release of Statement 34

2. Incorporating pronouncements issued since the publication of the original series

3. Incorporating concepts set forth by the two Concepts Statements issued since the publication of the original series (namely, Concepts Statement No. 3, Communication Methods in General Purpose External Financial Reports That Contain Basic Financial Statements, and Concepts Statement No. 4, Elements of Financial Statements)

4. Writing a new guide focusing on BTAs

5. Addressing major note disclosures and RSI in the local, school district, and BTA guides

6. Briefly covering the sections of a comprehensive annual financial report and the information they contain in the local, school district, and BTA guides

7. Combining the analyst and disclosure guides into a single, comprehensive guide.

Project History: A draft of the local government guide was completed and distributed to the advisory committee for review in April.

2011: The local government guide was discussed by the Board at its May 2011 teleconference. The Board commented on the level of prior knowledge necessary to read and understand the guide, which is intended for laypersons with no prior knowledge of governmental accounting, and identified certain portions that could be further revised to make them less complex. The review by the advisory committee for the guide was completed in May 2011. The local government guide was published in December 2011.

The Board provided feedback on an outline of the contents and organization of a revised draft of the GASB user guide, An Analyst’s Guide to Government Financial Statements. The Board generally provided positive feedback of the plan for organizing the combined guides and the substantive topics to be covered as proposed by the project staff. The analyst guide was reviewed by its advisory committee in August 2011. The advisory committee was appointed in late May 2011.

The Board reviewed a draft of the revised and updated school district user guide at its June 2011 meeting, providing general feedback on the appropriateness of the level of discussion and the subject matter covered. An advisory committee for the school district guide was appointed in June and reviewed the guide in July 2011.

The Board reviewed an outline of the business-type activities guide at the August 2011 meeting.

Current Developments: Production continued on the school district and analyst guides. The Board discussed a drafting of the BTA guide at its January 2012 meeting, and the guide was subsequently distributed for review to an advisory committee of constituents experienced with BTAs.


Work Plan
:

Board meetings

 

Topics to be considered

April 2012:

 

Publish school district guide.

May 2012:   Publish analyst's guide.
July 2012:   Publish BTA guide.


The User Guide Series—Recent Developments

Minutes of Meeting, January 24-26, 2012

The staff discussed a draft of a new GASB User Guide, What You Should Know about the Finances of Your Business-Type Activities: A Guide to Financial Statements. The Board discussed the overall tone and subject matter of the guide, focusing particularly on the chapter on regulated enterprises. The staff also briefed the Board on the review process for the guide and the appointment of an advisory committee of persons experienced with and knowledgeable about business-type activities.

Minutes of Meeting, August 17-19, 2011

The Board discussed a draft table of contents of a new GASB User Guide, What You Should Know about the Finances of Your Government’s Business-Type Activities: A Guide to Financial Statements. The Board considered the appropriateness of the topics covered in the guide and the types of business-type activities that would be discussed and illustrated in the guide. The Board also was brought up to date on the production schedule for the other users guides: What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances is on target for publication in September; What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances is being revised and finalized to incorporate Board and advisory committee comments; An Analyst’s Guide to Government Financial Statements is currently under review by the Board and the advisory committee.

Minutes of Meeting, June 27-29, 2011

The Board discussed a draft of an updated and revised version of the GASB User Guide, What You Should Know about Your School District’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements. The Board commented on the appropriateness of the level of discussion in the guide, which is intended for laypersons with no prior knowledge of governmental accounting, and on the content covered by the guide. The Board also was brought up to date on the production schedule for the guide the Board reviewed at its May teleconference, What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements. That guide is expected to be published in July.

Minutes of Meeting, May 23-25, 2011

The Board provided feedback on an outline of the contents and organization of a revised draft of the GASB user guide, An Analyst’s Guide to Government Financial Statements. The updated guide is being combined with the separate user guide, What Else You Should Know about a Government’s Finances: A Guide to Notes to the Financial Statements and Supporting Information. The Board generally provided positive feedback of the plan for organizing the combined guides and the substantive topics to be covered as proposed by the project staff.

Minutes of Teleconference, May 2, 2011

The Board discussed a draft of an updated and revised version of the GASB User Guide, What You Should Know about Your Local Government’s Finances: A Guide to Financial Statements. The Board commented on the level of prior knowledge necessary to read and understand the guide, which is intended for laypersons with no prior knowledge of governmental accounting, and identified certain portions that could be further revised to make them less complex. The Board also discussed the schedule for revising and reviewing the remaining user guides.