During the past year and a half, many government entities have experienced significant turnover in several positions. Some governments are left scrambling to continue with day-to-day operations while trying to find qualified applicants to fill vacant positions.
Unexpected events and uncertainties about the future make planning for turnover more important than ever, given the changes the pandemic has brought about in the workplace. Governments can take several steps to prepare for turnover and ensure that all duties will be covered during employee vacations, medical leaves, etc. Consider the following measures and create a plan to ensure that your government can continue to run smoothly, no matter what obstacles present themselves.
Accounting procedures are imperative to a well-functioning government. These are considered the “how” when performing accounting functions (cutting checks, processing payroll, etc.). While most government accounting personnel know what their duties are, these day-to-day accounting procedures are often left undocumented in a manual. While it is crucial to have the policies required by state laws approved by the council or board – such as a credit card acceptance policy and electronic transaction policy – it is just as important to document the complete procedures for actually processing transactions. Accounting procedures should be written for each key transaction cycle, typically those include disbursements, receipts, and payroll, to ensure that the day-to-day transactions are being processed and recorded correctly in the event of turnover. Further, it is recommended that these procedures be reviewed and updated frequently to reflect changes in the procedures that result from gaining efficiencies or changes in the software.
Once accounting procedures have been well documented, cross-train employees to ensure that all key transaction cycles are covered in the event of turnover and cover vacations or medical leave. Even during holidays, payroll will still need to be processed and checks cut. Cross-training allows employees to take time off without the government suffering as their duties have been well documented, and other departments have been trained to handle the processing of the transactions.
While cross-training is essential, it is also important to consider segregation of duties when determining which employees will cover which key transaction cycles in the event of vacations, turnover, etc. For example, the signer of the checks should not prepare the checks.
Well-documented accounting procedures and cross-training are very useful tools to ensure that the government’s operations can continue during interruptions such as turnover. However, management and the council or board should also know when to ask for external help. The pandemic has resulted in individuals retiring or taking different positions, which can adversely affect operations at the governments if they were responsible for many duties. Combined with a lack of documented procedures, this can cause the government to get behind on day-to-day transactions and annual audits, which may result in increased monitoring by the state and potentially the withholding of funding. Oversight by management and the council or board is necessary as a lack of timely financial reports can indicate that things are falling behind. Limited consulting services are often available through your audit firm, such as cash to accrual entries for audit preparation, capital asset tracking, etc. Discussion with your external auditor is always a good starting place as they work closely with firms that can assist with the day-to-day processing of transactions without impairing their independence.