If your local government plans to submit a budget book to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), what changes in the award submission criteria do you need to know? The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program recognizes state and local governments that prepare budget books of the highest quality. Every year, over 1,700 participants and 100 new participants submit their budget book for consideration.
The GFOA has modernized the Award Program to reflect changes in budgeting practices and how technology can make budget information more accessible to the public. These changes will apply to budgets with a fiscal year beginning January 1, 2021, or later. To qualify, your government needs to understand and include the mandatory criteria in the budget book you submit to the Award Program.
Six key changes to the mandatory criteria are as follows:
1. Strategic goals and strategies are now mandatory
The GFOA requires a summary of strategic goals and strategies that addresses any long-term challenges for your government. You should describe the decision-making process used to develop your strategic goals and how your government plans to achieve them.
2. Summarize the changes between the proposed and adopted budget in the budget overview
This criterion requires that an overview of significant budgetary items — as well as trends in revenues, expenditures, and capital — be provided by your government. The overview should be presented within the budget in a concise format, such as a budget-in-brief, or be included within the transmittal letter.
The GFOA also asks for a summary of changes between the proposed budget and the adopted budget. This summary should include a description of why the changes were made; for example, a rate change or extra work was required for a project.
3. Describe how the public was involved in the budget process
The budget book should contain a description of the budget process, including the internal process to build the budget and the process for adopting the budget or making any amendments. The GFOA also wants a summary of how your government included the public in the budget process, which could include using surveys, meetings, videos, social media, and new technology.
4. Combine the process for choosing capital programs with the impact on the operating budget
GFOA wants a summary of capital programs by major revenue source and uses by major project, type, fund, or program. Your budget can include this summary as long as additional details are provided somewhere else in the budget book. Most importantly, GFOA requires the process for choosing projects for funding, such as how programs were evaluated or prioritized, and the justification for funding the programs chosen. In addition, your government needs to provide an analysis of the impact of capital programs on the operating budget.
5. Performance measures for goals and objectives are now mandatory
The GFOA previously required a description of the long-term goals and short-term objectives for your government departments and any relevant performance data. The new criterion asks for a detailed description of how the department goals and objectives are linked to the strategic mission of your government.
Performance data that shows how individual departments are achieving goals and objectives are still required. However, the GFOA now wants to see an assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of the methods being used to achieve strategic goals.
6. Improve understandability and usability by using visuals and new methods of communication
To ensure that readers can understand what’s in the budget book, the GFOA suggests using visuals to draw attention to essential information, such as revenues, expenditures, fund balances, personnel, capital expenditures, service levels, or performance measures. This includes using charts, infographics, highlighting, bullet points, and narratives or captions to make your budget data easier to understand.
With the availability of new technology, such as data visualization and budget simulator tools, your government has more opportunities than ever to engage the public. The GFOA criterion asks if links to outside sources of budget information are included in the budget book to verify if your government is taking advantage of these new methods to communicate with citizens.
Win public trust (and an award) with your budget book
Updating the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program submission requirements not only helps your government prepare budget books of the highest quality but encourages you to move away from static print and PDF budget books. Encouraging the use of new technology and methods of communication also helps governments involve citizens at earlier stages of the budget process to foster better engagement and understanding of your government’s priorities.
Budget books tell the story of your organization’s strategic mission, how you are achieving goals and objectives, and investing in capital programs that enhance the quality of life for your community. The budget book should be concise, easy to understand and provide meaningful information to readers. A quality budget book creates trust with the public and shows accountability, a win just as big as the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.
For full details about the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program and changes to the submission criteria, visit the website.
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