Chapter 1: Electronic Government
Develop a Uniform Chart of Accounts for Counties
Each of Texas’ 254 counties uses their own accounting systems. Now, rising demands for greater accountability are forcing local governments to develop and use more sophisticated accounting systems. Until all counties report their finances in the same way, the state cannot make useful comparisons or create benchmarks for measuring a program’s success—an essential element of accountability. The Comptroller’s office should be authorized to create a uniform chart of accounts for counties to help guarantee the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.
Uniformity in accounting systems and financial reporting is a long-standing government goal. The nationwide leader in the push for uniformity is the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Since 1984, GASB has issued a series of guidelines aimed at improving financial reporting and accountability. The latest GASB guideline, “GASB 34,” brings added urgency to the need for uniform accounting practices.
The GASB 34 requirements being imposed on local governments will require many cities and counties to completely overhaul their accounting systems. Governments with annual revenues of $100 million or more will have to comply by June 15, 2001. Those with revenues between $10 million and $100 million must comply by June 15, 2002. Finally, governments with revenues under $10 million have until June 15, 2003 to comply.
Texas Counties Support Uniformity
Two 1991 Comptroller surveys of county auditors found widespread support for “standardization of financial accounting.” Informal discussions with local officials also suggest that many would support a uniform “chart of accounts,” a common system of accounts for counties to use in reporting financial data. In May 2000, participants at an auditors’ seminar at the LBJ School of Public Affairs voiced interest in a uniform chart of accounts “like TEA has for the schools.” (Texas school districts have for some time operated under uniform reporting mandates.)
In Texas, the Comptroller of Public Accounts has had authority since 1933 to prescribe and prepare the forms and manner in which governments collect revenues and keep accounts, to ensure a uniform system of accounting throughout the state. The Comptroller’s office once provided Texas counties with a Standard Financial Management System for Texas Counties, a useful how-to guide, but emphasized that it was “not intended as uniform procedures to be followed by Texas counties.” Instead, the system’s standards were intended as a “yardstick” to meet the agency’s minimum requirements.
The Comptroller’s Uniform Statewide Accounting System (USAS) provides accounting services to all state agencies using a uniform chart of accounts. USAS was established pursuant to a mid-1980s legislative mandate and began operating in September 1993. The program is mainframe-based; users access it from remote computers using modems or local area networks (LANs).
Georgia: The Most Recent Example
The most recent convert to uniform accounting for local governments is the State of Georgia. Its efforts in this area deserve a closer look because of the care and planning that went into their implementation.
In response to the Georgia Future Communities Commission’s legislative package, the Georgia legislature adopted the Local Government Uniform Chart of Accounts and Reporting Act (HB 491), to provide a uniform format for local government financial reporting and accounting. The effort was guided by an advisory committee formed by the Georgia Association of County Commissioners and the Georgia Municipal Association. The committee held a number of meetings throughout the state to seek input from various stakeholders, and it sought input from the Georgia Government Finance Officers Association, the Municipal and County Clerks Associations, and the Georgia Sheriffs Association.
The state also enlisted the help of the Carl Vinson Institute on Government and conducted training seminars on the new system across the state. The state also made a provision for “crosswalking,” allowing local governments with existing accounting systems to request a delay to convert their financial data to the prescribed reporting formats. Beginning in fiscal 2001, all other Georgia cities and counties were required to adopt and use the state’s new Uniform Chart of Accounts.
State law should be amended to authorize the Comptroller’s office to adopt a uniform chart of accounts for county financial data and other pertinent information.
While the Comptroller may have authority under existing statutes to collect information in a standard format, an amendment to the applicable statute would more clearly define this authority and provide for local and legislative input on these changes.
This proposal would have no significant direct fiscal impact on the state.
 Government Accounting Standards Board, “Summary of Statement No 34” (http://www.rutgers.edu/Accounting/raw/gasb/st/summary/gstsm34.html). (Internet document.)
 Remarks from participants at a panel discussion on Benchmarking for Counties at the 42nd County Auditors’ Institute, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas in cooperation with the Texas Association of County Auditors, Austin, Texas, May 17, 2000.
 Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Standard Financial Management System for Texas Counties (Austin, 1977), Procedure 001, p. 1.
 Interview with Hank Robinson, Texas State Comptroller’s Office, Austin, Texas, May 22, 2000.
 Georgia Municipal Association, “GASB 34 Creates Need for Uniform Chart of Accounts Extension” (Atlanta, Georgia, January 2000) (www.gmanet.com/govaffairs/issues/coa.shtml). (Internet document.)