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The Future of Federal Financial Management

Transformation Stories

Google-Like Accounting Guidance is a Snap for HHS

Wesley Yon, HHS Director of Accounting Standardization and Oversight, and Snap.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers our nation's programs that deal with health and welfare, including Medicare and Medicaid. As an agency that manages more than a trillion dollars of federal funding each year, keeping track of its finances is a massive, complex task.

For years, HHS maintained its Accounting Treatment Manual (ATM) as an Excel document. That’s now changing in a snap with Snap.

Snap is a new tool that’s beginning to change the way HHS maintains its financial management guidance material and data. It has the potential to reduce time spent performing repetitive manual processes by 40%, reduce error rates by 20%, and provide accurate data in real time. In partnership with Treasury's Fiscal Service, HHS is transforming its approach to financial management with Snap.

"This is a game-changer. It saves financial managers and analysts hours of low-value manual labor and allows them to focus on high-value work."

The Challenge of the ATM

Starting in 2015, the HHS Accounting Treatment Manual became the all-purpose Excel document for HHS accounting treatment information. HHS Standard General Ledger (SGL) accounts, account mappings, accounting events, object class codes, and accounting scenarios are all captured in one unwieldy space. The ATM is the document to open for a wide range of tasks, including financial management, budget execution, and system configuration.

The HHS Accounting Treatment Manual is a comprehensive Excel file and touches nearly every aspect of HHS accounting.

The ATM is organized into more than 15 Excel tables. There are 734 HHS SGL accounts, thousands of accounting events, more than 800 accounting scenarios, and just as many object classes. All of these elements are important to meet government accounting standards and manage federal dollars. HHS also relies on the ATM to advance standardization across all its operating divisions; therefore, it was extremely important that the document is always up-to-date and accurate.

If there are changes to the ATM – for example, a new OMB circular was released, or the U.S. Standard General Ledger was updated – the notice is published in a PDF and other formats. This information has to be translated, and the ATM has to be revised manually.

Theoretically, all of the accounting information HHS needed is in the ATM. But realistically, it’s not even remotely user friendly. The ATM is difficult to navigate and time-consuming to update. Every manually entered record increases the risk for errors. Information published in the ATM is not always readily available in the financial systems, which brings into question the integrity of the data. And scalability is a challenge – after all, the ATM is merely an Excel document. There are limits, even using the sophisticated capabilities of Excel.

Change was needed.

What Snap Does

The answer was Snap. Created using a platform called ServiceNow, the HHS ATM was transformed into an automated, streamlined tool, accessible to anyone associated with HHS financial management. It includes an intuitive, powerful search engine that can provide results related to guidance and accounting treatment scenarios.

The interface of Snap is user friendly and even looks like a Google search page. Instead of a lengthy index, it focuses on problem solving by leading with a search engine. Its data is organized into Accounting Information, and a Knowledge Base. A Get Help button allows a user to make a change request or ask a simple question. A Community button delivers community–sourced answers to questions.

The interface of Snap is a user-friendly search engine.

"I wanted Snap to give users an experience similar to a Google search,” said Wesley Yon, HHS Director of Accounting Standardization and Oversight. “It was important for the system to be intuitive and easy to understand."

Using Snap, a word search will immediately explore its knowledge repository of authoritative guidance, and can identify all areas where the change is relevant. What used to take hours to research, collect, and analyze relevant PDFs now takes seconds.

"This is a game-changer," said Yon. "It saves financial managers and analysts hours of low-value manual labor and allows them to focus on high-value work, such as working with stakeholders and focusing on program performance."

Currently, Snap is in a pilot stage with more than 100 users and is expected to become fully available at HHS in the coming months. Snap is scalable and can serve as a model for future partnerships between the Fiscal Service and partner agencies.

To learn more about developing an innovative partnership with the Treasury, learn more about the Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation Focused Innovation Program.

Digitizing Data

The partnership between the Fiscal Service and HHS is based on converting standard accounting guidance from PDFs to digital data. The Fiscal Service manages the Treasury Financial Manual (TFM), which provides a uniform chart of accounts and technical guidance for standardized federal agency accounting, and the U.S. Standard General Ledger (USSGL), which tracks government account balances. These documents are the cornerstone for federal financial accounting.

TFM and USSGL’s data and updates are critical to federal agencies. Fiscal Service was already at work digitizing both the TFM and the USSGL. Providing data digitally is a critical step forward in transforming federal financial management.

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Last modified 07/09/20