The User's Perspective
The three What You Should Know guides offer users a comprehensive, easily digestible introduction to the annual reports of local governments, school districts, and—new for 2012—business-type activities such as public utilities, hospitals, and colleges. The new editions of these guides cover more note disclosures and supporting information and include the major new pronouncements issued since the publication of the original guides.
An Analyst’s Guide is geared toward more experienced and frequent users of governmental financial statements. In addition to introducing and describing the information that can be found in governmental reports, the newly expanded 2012 edition explores how basic analytical techniques may be applied to assess such issues as economic condition, financial position, liquidity, solvency, fiscal capacity, and risk exposure. The new edition updates and combines the current guide with the GASB’s guide to notes and supporting information to create a comprehensive, updated guide to the whole comprehensive annual financial report.
More information about the user guides is available and the guides can be purchased through the GASB website.
The GASB has taken advantage of Internet-based survey software to allow respondents to research surveys to submit their answers online. Many of the GASB’s surveys offer an Internet-based form as one method of response. The GASB also allows comment letters on its proposals to be submitted by email and posts them on its website almost immediately.
These efforts offer quicker, easier options for constituents to offer feedback to the GASB. What the GASB needs to hear from users boils down to answers to these questions:
In addition to employing surveys and interviews and conducting archival research, the GASB has increasingly conducted roundtable discussions as part of its research. These began during the development of Statement 34 when the GASB held more than two dozen “focus groups” with users to obtain their views on the proposals for revamping the financial report.
The GASB conducted a series of roundtables in cities around the country as part of its research on pension accounting and financial reporting. These roundtables included participants from across the spectrum of users of financial reports, as well as preparers, auditors, and actuaries.
User participation is also of great importance to the Board once the research phase of a project has been completed. Last year, the GASB conducted user forums in three cities to hear input on its proposed revisions to the pension standards. In May, the GASB conducted discussions with users regarding its proposals for reporting financial projections at the annual conferences of two user organizations—the National Federation of Municipal Analysts and the Governmental Research Association.
The three pension user forums drew participants including representatives of citizen groups, research organizations, legislative/oversight groups, bond rating agencies, academics, and financial analysts. The two discussions of financial projections drew participants including municipal analysts and representatives of taxpayer associations and citizen groups.
Roundtables and forums allow constituents to offer feedback in a more relaxed setting and do not require the preparation of formal testimony. A valuable aspect of such discussions is that they allow for dialogue among the participants, which tends to raise issues that otherwise might not have been mentioned. When held as part of the formal due process on a GASB proposal, this format also allows for exchange between participants and the Board members.
In recent years, the GASB has made both roundtables and forums more accessible to its constituents by allowing participation by telephone. Now you can take part, with a minimal time commitment, no matter where in the country you are located.
During the comment period on the GASB’s Exposure Draft, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions, which was issued in July 2011, the Board received 650 comments, but only about 40—just over 6 percent—of these were submitted by those in the user community. Similarly, during the comment period on the Preliminary Views, Economic Condition Reporting: Financial Projections (issued in December 2011), only 14 of 171 comment letters—just over 8 percent—were submitted by users. While users were instrumental during the research phase of both of these major initiatives, and did participate in the user forums and discussions mentioned above, the user community was surprisingly quiet at the moment when the GASB needed confirmation that what it proposed was what you need—or, that it fell short of the mark.
Again, we understand how busy you are. Just as your input is critical to guide the GASB during the research phase, it is equally indispensable during the actual standards-setting process to see your formal comment on whether the GASB got the right answer.
If just a fraction of the users of governmental financial information completed a single survey, commented on one proposal, or participated in one roundtable discussion, user forum, or interview each year—and if current participants did just one more of any of those things—then the level of user involvement would grow significantly. And, quite possibly, the GASB’s standards would lead to even more useful information as a result.
If you did not realize that you can help to shape the type of information you receive in state and local government financial reports, then you might be interested to learn that a single, convincing argument from any quarter can influence the decisions made by the GASB members. If you thought sharing your views is too time consuming, then we encourage you to take advantage of the changes the GASB has made to make your participation easier.
It you would like to discuss how you can become more involved in the GASB process, contact Kip Betz at the GASB, either by email (email@example.com) or by telephone at (203) 956-5201.