October 2000

GASB Initiatives SOLICIT User Participation

By Suzanne Lowensohn

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has made diligent efforts to reach its constituency—especially the user community—as any recent news release, presentation by a GASB staff member, or visit to the GASB website will reveal. GASB is a relatively small organization whose members are only part-time. The organization operates with donated funds collected on its behalf by the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF) and supplemented with proceeds from sales of its documents. Its stated mission is “to establish and improve standards of state and local governmental accounting and financial reporting that will result in useful information for users of financial reports and guide and educate the public, including issuers, auditors, and users of those financial reports” (emphasis added).

GASB identifies three categories of primary users:

  • Those to whom the government is primarily accountable (i.e., its citizens);
  • Those who directly represent citizens (e.g., legislative and oversight bodies, citizen groups, community organizations); and
  • Those who finance the government or who participate in the financing process (e.g., taxpayers, other governments, investors, creditors, underwriters, municipal bond insurers, rating agencies, and analysts). Other users may include government administrators, research institutes, professors and students, and the media.

    Development of user guides. The GASB staff is currently working on a series of guides to financial statements designed especially for financial information users. Three guides focus on specific governmental entities (local governments, state governments, public school districts) and are aimed at a wide range of readers, from the average citizen to the experienced, nonfinancial public manager. A fourth guide covering all three types of governments is intended for analysts and other regular users. All four guides are expected this year [at press time, the first had been posted at]. Additionally, GASB is considering several abbreviated guides for elected officials, legislators, and school administrators.

    Development of plain-language documents. The GASB staff has prepared its first plain-language supplement for a due-process document. This supplement was issued with the note disclosures exposure draft at the end of June (available from the GASB order department or It is a less-technical summary intended to solicit input from individuals underrepresented in the standards-setting process. Following the exposure draft’s comment period, GASB will conduct a survey to assess the effectiveness of the supplements. This process will continue in the short term, and plain-language documents may become a regular feature, if there is positive feedback from the pilot projects.

    Increased user participation. In the past three years, GASB has begun using focus groups and has substantially increased user representation on its task forces and advisory committees. GASB also conducted approximately 36 user focus groups for the reporting model and note disclosures projects; the 30-member reporting model task force included 12 users. GASB also obtained substantial user input regarding the usefulness of note disclosures via a recent survey project.

    Modification of the public hearing process. The due process that GASB must follow before issuing standards is open, with public hearings conducted at sites across the country, providing the opportunity for GASB to ask questions about information and respondents’ points of view regarding proposed statements. This fall, GASB will supplement one of its public hearings with a public forum intended to bring together preparers, auditors, and users for collective feedback and direct dialogue.

    Development of a constituent database. In an attempt to develop a strong network of financial report users (including potential users), GASB constructed a constituent database to aid two-way communications: GASB deliberations will be improved as board members better understand user needs, and users can be better informed of the new information provided by GASB standards. GASB’s current database contains information on more than 5,000 persons, more than a third of whom are users. Individuals can register for the database through GASB’s website.

    Devotion of a section of GASB’s websites to users. GASB’s primary website and performance measurement website have sections devoted to users. The “users” button on the GASB homepage leads to the following sections: GASB and the user community, news and events, the financial reporting model, ways to get involved, and overview. The performance measurement website includes a citizens’ guide.

    Interaction with the constituent community. GASB members have attempted to establish stronger relationships with user groups by arranging speaking opportunities, attending user group conferences, and making personal visits and telephone calls. They have also written articles tailored to specific publications that detail the feedback received from that group and discuss how GASB has responded to that feedback. Lists of constituent group meetings, as well as GASB member speaking engagements, are maintained on GASB’s website.

    Research regarding user needs. GASB is devoting research efforts toward user needs in hopes of determining if and how older standards have met their objectives, reaching a better understanding of how financial reports are used to make decisions, obtaining feedback on the relevance of previously implemented standards, and identifying unmet user needs. GASB encourages users to report (based on their own research) on how they evaluate the financial position and performance (both financial and nonfinancial) of governmental entities using financial statements and other available information.

    Other initiatives. GASB’s other initiatives toward users include a preface that was added to Statements 33 and 34 in an attempt to make them more reader-friendly. GASB is also using the media and the Internet to better educate a broader audience about itself and its due process procedures.

    Suzanne Lowensohn, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting at Barry University, Miami Shores, Fla.

    Robert H. Colson, PhD, CPA
    The CPA Journal

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