GASB and the User Community
According to its mission statement, the primary role of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board 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 educate stakeholders on how to most effectively understand and implement those standards.
The users of financial statements include legislators and their staff at the state, county, and local level; municipal bond insurers, buy- and sell-side analysts, rating agencies, mutual funds, and other bond market participants; citizen and taxpayer groups, service advocates, and community organizations; research institutes, think tanks, and professors and students; among others, as well as the general public.
Along with the preparers and auditors of financial statements, users are well represented before the GASB. The Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Council (GASAC), consults with the GASB on technical issues on the Board's agenda, project priorities, and matters likely to require the attention of the GASB. Twelve of the GASAC's 31 members are from organizations of users:
- American Accounting Association
- Association for Budgeting and Financial Management
- Bond insurance firms
- Bond rating agencies
- Governmental Research Association
- Insurance industry investors
- Investment Company Institute
- National Association of Bond Lawyers
- National Conference of State Legislatures
- National Federation of Municipal Analysts
- Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association
- U.S. Census Bureau.
Users provide important input in the process of devising and improving accounting and financial reporting rules. Users participate in the roundtables, surveys, and interviews conducted as a part of the GASB’s underlying research, as well as public hearings and user forums related to proposed standards.
The Board’s first five-year strategic plan, developed in 1997, made a groundbreaking commitment to substantially expanding the GASB’s communications with users and increasing user participation in due process activities. Each edition of the strategic plan since then has reaffirmed the centrality of the user to the work of the GASB. The GASB remains committed to educating users and raising awareness in the user community about governmental accounting and financial reporting issues and of the GASB itself, and involving more users in the GASB's standard-setting activities.
That commitment has resulted in a wide range of user-oriented initiatives, including:
- Plain-language articles and fact sheets communicate with users in nontechnical language and focus on what is most important to them: the information that governments report as a result of the GASB’s standards
- The User Guide Series is composed of four books about how to read and understand the financial statements of local governments, school districts, and business-type activities (such as universities, utilities, and hospitals), written specifically for nonaccountants.
- A website portal is specifically geared toward academics and other researchers who are studying or teaching governmental accounting.
- In conjunction with professional organizations, the GASB staff periodically conducts seminars on governmental accounting and financial reporting that are designed for people who use governmental financial information.
- The GASB staff also regularly presents at the meetings and conferences of user organizations about topics of interest to users, including pensions, retiree health insurance, leases. Any organization can request a GASB speaker. The GASB may meet with smaller user groups than for other types of stakeholders and may waive its standard request for reimbursement of travel expenses for in-person meetings.
The objectives of the strategic plan have promulgated several current efforts.