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GFOA's strategic training plan: the end of the beginning.

As a result of the keen interest of the Executive Board, in April 1994 the President of the GFOA appointed a six-member task force to examine the association's training efforts and recommend a five-year plan for improving and expanding GFOA's educational efforts. Fifteen months, six full-day task force meetings, a meeting with the GFOA state and provincial representatives and presidents, and three in-depth Executive Board discussions later, the GFOA now has a broad-based strategic plan to address the training needs of the members.

In developing the strategic training plan, the task force and the Executive Board first addressed the key training questions: Who are we trying to train? What information do they need? How can they best be trained? The answers to these questions constituted the statement of GFOA's training mission and philosophy and led to the formulation of the GFOA Strategic Training Plan. The mission set forth in this plan is:

to further educate all people involved in establishing, executing, and managing public financial resources to be capable of developing, maintaining, and improving effective government administration.

Supporting and guiding this mission are three goals, which relate to the type and extent of training, the cost effectiveness of programs, and a process of certification for public finance officials.

Goal One states, "To the extent possible, GFOA will offer training that cost-effectively meets the full range of individual needs." Achieving this goal will require use of a wide array of training technologies, such as self-study programs and workbooks, computer-based training, videos, seminars, and national conference. Each must be focused to varying levels of expertise and appropriate subject areas, such as accounting and financial reporting, cash management, retirement and benefits administration, debt management, and budgeting.

The second goal sets a target: "To double, within five years, the number of 'information contacts' that assist people in establishing, maintaining, or improving public management." Doubling information transfer will require mentoring programs that bring together experienced finance experts with those newer to the profession and strategies aimed at reaching members who find the cost of travel prohibitive. It will call for producing self-study courses and the use of computer-based materials and workbooks, audio/video tapes, and teleconferencing. We will continue to provide an outstanding annual conference and more regional seminars.

Goal Three's aim is "To initiate and maintain a process that certifies knowledge in the individual areas of public finance." GFOA members have indicated in a variety of ways their interest in a well-designed professional certification program. In evaluating this member interest, the Strategic Training Task Force conducted extensive research on state and national certification programs. It found that in the last 10 years there has been a major proliferation of programs self-designated as certifications. These programs vary greatly in character: some certify knowledge through written examination; others were simply of the "send-in-a-check-and-get-some-initials-after-your-name" variety. The GFOA's Strategic Training Task Force and Executive Board, firmly rejecting the fee-for-initials approach, were of one opinion: certification could only be made where knowledge was demonstrated. Consequently, we urge you to avoid those certification programs that are not exam-based.

The GFOA Executive Board has adopted a certification program that will be a broad educational program geared to all practitioners. Its objective will be to prepare them to be finance officers and to maintain the currency of their knowledge, now and in the future. Thus, the program will be oriented toward those public finance professionals who are moving up the ranks and who will some day be at the top echelon of government finance. Given this audience focus, GFOA's certification program will require a comprehensive understanding of the core finance functions, a requirement that will benefit the profession widely and, especially, future generations of finance officers.

GFOA's certification initiative will focus on encouraging basic, broad competencies through one general program. The key feature will be certifying knowledge as measured through written exams and a modest experience requirement. Examinations will cover the core finance areas, such as accounting and financial reporting, budgeting, cash management, and debt issuance and management. Individuals who successfully complete the program will earn the designation Certified Public Finance Officer (CPFO). Having achieved certification, a CPFO would be obliged to maintain currency by attending 30 CPE hours of relevant training each year. These hours could be accumulated by attending GFOA or state seminars and conferences, as well as through other means.

The state and provincial finance official organizations will have a major role to play in the GFOA's .certification program. GFOA will create and administer the exams, working cooperatively with the state associations. State organizations may, if they choose, develop a state-specific examination that can help certify knowledge of local finance laws and regulations. The task force encourages state and provincial groups to create additional exams testing such state-specific knowledge; however, it will be possible to achieve a national certificate without having been certified in local laws and regulations. Individuals within states may choose to participate in GFOA's program and earn a certification that is both widely recognized and portable.

State associations might participate in the logistics of GFOA's certification program by arranging sites and proctoring exams. While other vehicles for doing this exist, working closely with the states is the most desirable course of action.

The design phase of GFOA's Strategic Training Plan is substantially complete. Now the work of making it all happen begins. The Executive Board looks to the membership for continued support as the individual building blocks of the association's training program are brought together. It will not happen overnight; but when it is complete, GFOA's training will better serve the profession of public finance.

LINDA R. SAVITSKY is director of municipal finance services for the State of Connecticut, a member of the GFOA Executive Board, and former chair of the GFOA Strategic Training Task Force.
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Title Annotation:Government Finance Officers Association
Author:Savitsky, Linda R.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 1, 1995
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