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Serving as a budget reviewer a win-win situation.

While many financial professionals participate in the Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program by submitting their entity's budget for consideration, far fewer realize that becoming a volunteer reviewer can be an award in and of itself. There is too much to learn in the world of governmental budgeting, and the mountain of information seems to grow exponentially with each passing year. By looking outside one's own budget, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained.

GFOA developed the Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program in 1984 to recognize exemplary budgets and to encourage governments to prepare budget documents of the highest quality. More than 1,000 governments across the United States and Canada now participate in the program, submitting copies of their annual or biennial budget for consideration. Each budget is evaluated by three different reviewers.

The evaluation of budget documents is accomplished through GFOA's Budget Review Panel, a group of some 300 independent reviewers from the ranks of public finance professionals in the United States and Canada. These reviewers use a comprehensive checklist to determine which budgets are worthy of the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.


The main benefit of serving as a reviewer is learning the criteria by which budget documents are judged. By familiarizing themselves with the evaluation criteria, the reviewers are better prepared to produce high-quality budget documents for their own jurisdictions. Some applicants even choose to become reviewers before submitting their own budgets for consideration. This provides an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the criteria and to see how other governments apply the criteria in the documents they submit for review. As such, the reviewers are better able to incorporate the criteria into their initial application.

Another benefit of reviewing budgets is the ability to glean ideas from the budget documents of other state and local governments. It is said that imitation is the truest form of flattery. Many reviewers can attest to the truth of this axiom. Governments across the United States and Canada have modeled and remodeled their budgets based on a reviewer's analysis of another organization's budget document.

Similarly, studying and evaluating budget documents from many different jurisdictions helps one keep abreast of the latest trends in the field of governmental budgeting. These trends naturally work their way into the budget documents under consideration for the award.

Still another advantage of serving as a reviewer is the comments made by past reviewers. As part of the submission process, applicants are encouraged to respond to comments made by past reviewers. By looking at the responses to these comments, the reviewer is able to see how participants modify and improve their budgets over the years. These comments may help the reviewer identify potential problem areas in their own budget document.

It is important to point out that reviewers operate independently of GFOA officers and staff. The identities of reviewers to whom particular budgets are assigned for review are kept confidential.


Applications to participate in GFOA's Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program as a reviewer are available online at under the "Forms" dropdown menu. You can fill out the form online, and then email it back, along with your resume, to Prior experience in budgeting is helpful in performing the task of reviewing a budget.

GFOA has designed the program to offer the maximum benefit to the reviewer. For instance, budgets are categorized by size and type of government. In other words, if you serve in a community of 15,000 people with a $20 million budget, you may choose to review budgets from communities of similar size. Some reviewers prefer to evaluate budget documents of a different size or governmental type to expand their horizon.

Reviewers decide how many times they review budget documents each year by choosing specific months. As they become more experienced in evaluating budgets, the time it takes to analyze a budget document may be sharply reduced. GFOA provides the forms and other materials necessary to serve as a reviewer.

To learn more about becoming a budget reviewer, contact John Fishbein at or (312) 578-2268.

JOHN FISHBEIN is senior manager in GFCA's Technical Services Center in Chicago, Illinois, In this capacity, he manages the Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program, Before joining GFOA, Mr. Fishbein was a budget analyst for the Regional Transportation Authority, the financial oversight and regional planning body for the three public transit operators in Northeastern Illinois.

DAVID VEHAUN is management services administrator for the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Mr. Vehaun is a member of the Committee on Governmental Budgeting and Fiscal Policy and on the GFOA Nominating Committee, He is past president of the Government Finance Officers Association of South Carolina and of the Municipal Finance Officers Association of South Carolina.
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Title Annotation:Solutions; Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards Program
Author:Fishbein, John; Vehaun, David
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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