Are Government Accountants ‘Quiet Quitting’ in the Opposition to Senate Bill 4295?

October 24, 2022

In recent weeks, several magazines have run stories that Americans are “quiet quitting.” In case you haven’t heard this term, it refers to the idea that workers are doing just enough to get by without getting fired. American workers think they are not paid enough, are not recognized for their efforts, and have been sacrificing other life pursuits to give 100 percent to the company.

This is not just an American phenomenon, it is happening around the globe. Covid taught us to rethink our dedication to our careers. Many of us took a step backwards in the past two years and reflected on life in general. If things get too hard, we should just do enough to get by.

This got me thinking about new government initiatives and my reaction to change. I started this new position at Truth in Accounting last summer. And I won’t lie to you. Starting something completely new has been hard. There were a few times where I wasn’t sure “hard” was worth it. But I kept coming back to the fact that learning this new information about government accounting would help me be a better teacher, better accountant, and a better researcher. “Hard” had never deterred me before, but now it was a thing I had to confront.

This self-reflection led me to think about the recent proposal by Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Mike Crapo of Idaho. Their Bill requires governments to create financial transparency in governmental reporting much like what corporations are required to do in reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission using machine readable financial programming language. The Bill is called the S. 4295, the Financial Data Transparency Act of 2022

In a letter Truth in Accounting wrote in September, we voiced our support for the legislation and gave our reasons why government reporting should have transparency equal to that of corporations. We, as investors and creditors, can choose if we invest in a company. Taxpayers have no choice. Thus, one of the primary goals in governmental accounting is to create accountability through transparency. Some governmental entities are stepping up to the plate to make this happen.  In fact, Florida has legislation to develop machine readable data, eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), reporting for its government entities. Michigan also has a grant to translate Flint’s financial statements into XBRL to help users understand their economic woes. Senator Crapo is from Idaho and Senator Warner from Virginia, so it is clear certain states are interested in improving governmental reporting.

Despite this wonderful progress, opponents are actively advocating against this legislation.

The primary arguments given against Senate Bill 4295 are worth discussing.  The first is funding this endeavor, but with all the American Rescue Plan money floating in state and local governments post-Covid, funding problems could be overcome.  Funding issues were argued when the mandate to require pension debt be reported, but this requirement successfully survived in spite of the implementation cost. It has added tremendous transparency to the annual financial reports.

Another argument is that employees would have to be retrained. That is not a valid argument. Who amongst us has not had to be retrained to keep our jobs over the past ten years as new technologies have impacted our workflow. They argue that machine-readable language isn’t fully written yet to make financial data readable in governmental reporting. Florida and Michigan are proving this can be overcome.

Finally, the argument is that a mandate to make governmental accounting more transparent and accountable through machine-readable data would put a significant burden on state and local governments. Publicly traded companies have software applications that can facilitate the transition. Once this is implemented, it saves time and money in later reporting years. PriceWaterhouseCoopers states it brilliantly, “XBRL: One standard - many applications.”

These arguments are concerning. It sounds like quiet quitting to me. We should just keep doing enough to get by in state and local governments and stick to the archaic methods for reporting  financial data. Change is hard, training people is hard, specific technologies are hard, and these things create significant burdens. I argue, now is the time to tackle hard problems, especially those that qualify as significant burdens. As a nation, we are over $144 trillion and climbing  in debt, according to some estimates. Yet each state received money from the federal government to help tackle significant problems. If we don’t engage and tackle these problems now, we won’t have to worry about quiet quitting.  Our problems will be much greater than that.


comments powered by Disqus