Key Federal Financial Management Terms

Below are some key Federal Financial Management Terms:

  • Authorization: Act of Congress that permits Federal programs or activities to exist and recommends funding levels.
  • Appropriation: Act of Congress to provide Federal agencies with budget authority to obligate government to future outlay of cash for a specific purposes and period of time. 
  • Commitment: An administrative reservation of funds by the financial controller or resource manager triggered by a procurement or purchase request.
  • Obligation: A legal reservation fo funds that binds government to future expenditure and outlay of cash from the Treasury triggered by the signing of a contract, travel order, credit card transaction, etc. 
  • Expenditure: Issuance of a payment disbursement by electronic funds transfer, check, etc. 
  • Outlay: Payment of cash from Treasury to vendor to liquidate a financial obligation.

 

These should be helpful in understanding the Federal

financial management processes. 

 

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Mars On A Dime

Extra Mile
According to the Wall Street Journal that compares with $671M that it cost NASA (which arrived just 3 days earlier than India’s) and the European Space Agency’s mission that cost $386M in 2003,



But aside from the Indian’s being able to achieve a Mars mission at a tenth the cost of what we did, BBC reported that they also did it $26M cheaper than even the cost of the science fiction movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock about the International Space Station. 



While we clearly go the extra mile and are able to do great things–why does it always cost us so much to get there?



Perhaps, you can say that we are somehow more diligent or careful in our work (i.e. putting a premium on safety) or that it’s just the higher cost of labor in this country or that we are early innovators and incur the costs of research and development that others than leverage. 



However, even though we are considered a very wealthy nation, it is fair to ask whether we are managing our wealth with discretion and an eye to the future or do we just take it for granted and are wasteful with it?



With a $3.9 trillion federal government budget (note, this is a full 21% of the entire U.S. economy/GDP), we are talking about some serious money, and we should be getting the most for it.



Unfortunately, the gravy train extends from certain “Beltway Bandit” contractors–e.g. remember the $640 toilet seats, $7,600 coffee makers, and $436 hammers uncovered by the Project on Government Oversight–and apparently all the way to mission Mars. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

10 Ways To Improve Federal Technology

10 Ways To Improve Federal Technology

While it’s good to improve government services through advances in information technology, we also need to do better with what we have, which is our own valuable IT human capital.

In the Wall Street Journal today, the “health-site woes” are spurring a push for changes to federal technology, including the possibility of a “federal unit dedicated to big tech projects.”

Whether or not we carve our a separate big tech project unit, we can do so much to improve success in all our agencies by valuing our people and motivating them to succeed.

As democracy and capitalism have taught us, we need people to be free to innovate and reward them appropriately.

While the grass may look greener in Silicon Valley, our challenge is to utilize all our resources in whatever part of the country they reside, whether they be government or private sector workers.

Ultimately, like most things, this is a human challenge, and not just a technology issue.

Hence, I developed the above comic strip to demonstrate 10 Ways to Improve Federal Technology, so we can all succeed together. 😉

(Source Cartoon [click here to enlarge]: Andy Blumenthal)

Government Shutdown – On The Street

Government Shutdown - On The Street

Day #3 of the Federal Government Shutdown.

I am reminded on the streets of D.C. that there are many others hurting and in need.

Pictured here are some hardworking folks striking against “unfair labor” practices.

They’re up early and are standing there ready, presumably willing, and able to work.

At the bottom it says, “Employer refuses to bargain in good faith.”

With news coming again this morning about continued failure in talks on the government budget (and debt ceiling not far behind), we are left wondering when good faith and compromise will bring 800,000 federal workers back to their jobs.

All these people have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and jobs to perform.

I read this morning how the Federal workers are feeling like “pawns” and “marginalized” like never before.

Perhaps, we can get more done by helping people feel a level of control, valued, and with purpose?

The world is still a big and scary place with lots of dangerous actors and challenging problems.

Rather then political polarlization and indecision, we need to stand firm by a definite set of sacred national values (while compromising on the implementation details), project the strength to defend them both domestically and abroad, and stay fair, faithful, and unwaveringly united to perform our vital role in this world.

To solve large global problems, we need to be able to show that we can manage our own house in order first. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Government Shutdown – Starbucks

Government Shutdown - Starbucks

So today is Day #2 of the Federal Government Shutdown.

This is a picture from the local Starbucks that is typically billowing at lunch time–as you can see it’s basically a morgue.

Unfortunately, hard-working Federal employees, contractors, and local business are feeling the impact!

Even from those that are still working, there is word of “survivor’s guilt”–like with a plane crash or other calamity, when those who survive the catastrophe question why they were so fortunate when the others weren’t so lucky and perished.

With both the budget shutdown and the impending debt ceiling showdown–we are facing the perfect storm, with real negotiation and compromise yet to emerge.

With this all, our significant national problems aren’t going away–to the contrary, Iran and North Korea are still global nuclear threats, Syria still has chemical weapons, the economy remains on shaky ground (in the paper today, the once high-flying pharmaceutical company Merck is planning to lay off 20%!), the national debt continues to spiral out of control (albeit at a “slower pace”), cybersecurity remains a major national security risk (although Cyber Command continues to stand up its new headquarters and firepower), and so much more.

Bubble stocks rose again yesterday after an almost 20% one-year return. Not only that, but the safety of gold took a beating again after an almost 40% one-year decline (full disclosure, I am a recent investor in the latter). One has to wonder how long it will take for sanity to prevail once again.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Government Shutdown – Rush Hour

Government Shutdown - Rush Hour

Today was Day #1 of the Federal Government Shutdown.

Pictured here is rush hour in Washington, D.C.

In terms of raising revenue to pay down our national debt, solve challenging problems facing our nation, or increase our global competitiveness–I am not sure how this gets us there.

With around 800,000 people sitting at home or in Starbucks waiting to be recalled to work, about the only good thing you can say about the furlough is that it was easy to get a seat on the Metro.

Sad, but true. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

When Requirements Go Awry

When Requirements Go Awry

You may have seen this before–it is a great comic strip on how requirements can go awry.

When you look at how product or service requirements look from each person’s vantage point, it is easy to see how they can be misunderstand, misinterpreted, or misrepresented.

Getting clarity of the tire swing before we start can save a lot of wasted time, effort, and money on building contraptions that no one wanted or needs.

Get the business and technical requirements spelled out in as much detail as possible from all parties; document, document, document; and have the customer approval and sign off on these.

Build to specification, on time, and within budget and make sure it meets the operational mission needs and strategic vision of the organization.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to tamingdata.com)

Righting Our National Economy

Washington_monument

We made it through he fiscal cliff–whew!  But the economic landscape remains a minefield. 

In terms of our national debt ceiling, we already passed the $16.4 trillion mark at the beginning of the year and are on borrowed time (no pun intended) until about mid-February when we exhaust accounting gimmicks and can no longer pay our national bills. 

Then there is the elusive government budget where we are on a “continuing resolution” that funds the government at the prior years spending levels until the beginning of March; there is no agreement on what the budget should be after that. 

Finally, there is the Sequestration that was delayed from the beginning of the year to March, which will produce across the board budget cuts to government–not surgically, but sweeping cuts that will hit almost all major government spending. 

All of these budgetary and debt issues are highly contentious and politicized and involve substantial policy decisions in terms of tax reform, spending cuts, and even income and wealth distribution. 

As difficult as it is to navigate a mine field, there is genuine fear that our national luck is running out and the sides are digging in such that even if we get over another one of these hurdles (likely by another delay) or even two of these, what are the odds that we get through all three unscathed economically and with our national image and strength intact?

Already in August 2011, S&P lowered the U.S. credit rating because of these unresolved issues and political stalemate around them, and Moody (in September 2012) and Fitch (this past week) threatened the same putting us at risk of higher borrowing costs, inflation, and even recession. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (3 August 2011) using game theory seemed to advocate for political compromise–that produces a “deal no one likes” but avoids pure political victory by one party over the other where one party gives in and the other holds out, and also avoids “financial Armageddon” where both sides hold out and can’t get any deal done at all. 

In games of “chicken” both sides “entertain the option of killing everyone” until they finally realize this results in mutually assured destruction (MAD). 

In Washington “everyone, however, is playing a game called ‘election'” and “the only possible goal in that game is to win the next one”–in this game, the real question–is there the leadership to rise above the politics, the short-term focus, and bring the two sides together in compromise to forge a path through a difficult economic road ahead. 

Truly, there is really only one way ahead and it is through national sacrifice that will spare no one, but may save the country and our ideals and make us stronger in the end. We are at a dead end for kicking the can further–next step must be to right the ship through cooperation and making the tough choices.

Just like the Washington Monument is one, we must become one. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

SDLC On Target

Sdlc

I found this great white paper by PM Solutions (2003) called “Selecting a Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) Methodology.”

The paper describes and nicely diagrams out the various SDLC frameworks:

– Waterfall
– Incremental
– Iterative
– Spiral
– RAD
– Agile

It also provides a chart of the advantages and disadvantages of each framework.

Finally, there is a simple decision cube (D3) based on time horizon, budget, and functionality for selecting an SDLC framework.

This is a very useful and practical analysis for implementing SDLC, and it aligns closely with the guidance from the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-64, “Security Considerations in the Systems Development Life Cycle” Appendix E that states:

“The expected size and complexity of the system, the development schedule, and the anticipated length of a system’s life may affect the choice of which SDLC model to use.”

While NIST focuses on the time horizon and complexity versus the PM Solutions Decision Cube that uses time horizon, budget, and functionality, the notion of tailoringSDLC to the project is both consistent and valuable.

Just one more resource that I found particularly good is the Department of Labor IT Project Management guidance (2002)–it is a best practice from the Federal CIO website.

I like how it integrates SDLC, IT Project Management, IT Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC), and security and privacy into a cohesive guide

It also establishes project “thresholds” to differentiate larger or more significant projects with greater impact from others and calls these out for “more intensive review.”

Even though these these resources are around a decade old, to me they are classic (in a good sense) and remain relevant and useful to developing systems that are on target.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Who Will Protect Those Who Protect Us?

 

This is a video that the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) sent to Congress to appeal to them not to cut funding to all the activities that our law enforcement officers do for us.

 

While the functions of government can always be more efficient–and we should constantly work to achieve these–federal law enforcement is incredibly important.

 

From the FBI to the Secret Service and from Border Patrol to DEA, we need to support all our federal law enforcement efforts.

 

These agents and officers risk their lives every day for all of us, and it’s time that we stand by them to protect their mission and jobs.