An interview with Susannah Baney, a Manager on Baker Tilly’s state and local government audit team, who served two years as a Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Fellow. This interview details her experiences serving as a Fellow, as well as key learnings for state and local government entities.
What is the GASB Fellows Program?
It’s a unique opportunity for professionals who work in public accounting to participate in the standard-setting process full-time in Norwalk, Connecticut. Fellows fully immerse themselves in the Board’s current agenda projects and research to further develop their knowledge and experience.
Where did this all start?
Baker Tilly is known in the accounting profession for our significant state and local government practice. For this reason, GASB reached out specifically to our firm regarding the fellowship opportunity. I heard about the opportunity at a Baker Tilly training and approached our state and local government team lead with interest. After a few weeks, I went to Norwalk to interview with the GASB staff. Shortly thereafter, I relocated to Connecticut and was working full time in my new role. Looking back, it was a whirlwind, but the experiences are irreplaceable.
What was your time at the GASB like?
I started with the GASB in January of 2015, and by the time I left in December 2016 the Board had issued 12 standards (No.’s 72-83) and many other due process documents. I had the opportunity to work on several teams within the GASB staff on significant projects including Leases, Implementation Guide Updates and Certain Debt Extinguishment Issues. I also worked on research for Going Concern and Equity Interest Ownership.
Outside of work, my time in Connecticut was filled with exploring the east coast and participating in team activities hosted by the FASB and GASB. My favorite memories include watching the Chicago White Sox play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and visiting many other east coast ballparks. I participated both years in the Norwalk River Association’s annual community challenge rowing competition with other FASB and GASB staff and board members. My adopted City of Norwalk is a beautiful place, and I enjoyed many early mornings training for a half marathon that I ran in October of 2016. You can’t beat the sunrises over the east coast!
What was your biggest accomplishment?
The biggest milestones I saw on my projects included issuing two due process documents on the proposed guidance for Leases, a hot topic in accounting right now. The Board issued the preliminary views document and the exposure draft during their deliberations. Assisting with drafting and reviewing these documents was a substantial task. I learned a lot about the process and how respondent comments to due process documents are reviewed and addressed by the staff and the Board.
What’s something you want government preparers to understand about the standard-setting process?
I want people to understand the diverse perspectives of the Board members, and how, together, they provide viewpoints most stakeholders in the industry can relate to. Currently, there is a seat for a local and a state government preparer, a local and a state auditor, an academic, a public accounting auditor and a financial statement user. These seats are appointed by the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF) Board of Trustees, who also oversees the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). These members are experienced and knowledgeable about the government environment and governmental accounting and work hard to provide quality guidance.
What is something about the GASB that you wish more people knew?
There are a lot of opportunities to get involved in the standard-setting process! Every new standard is required to have at least one due process document issued which gives stakeholders the opportunity to provide feedback through comment letters. GASB reviews every letter submitted, so if your government feels strongly about something, consider writing a letter.
There is also a Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Council (GASAC) that advises the GASB members on project topics and current issues. GASAC members are appointed by the FAF’s Board of Trustees. Check out the groups you participate in as governmental accountants and see if you have a representative on the GASAC — it’s a great way to be involved in the process.
Do you have any tips for success in understanding some of the more complex standards?
When you’re reading through the standards, do not stop at the effective date paragraph. Keep reading! The basis for conclusions provided in the back of each GASB statement provides really useful information for the thought-process of the Board members and the different alternatives considered. Ever wonder why the practical expedient you saw in the exposure draft did not make it to the final standard? The basis for conclusions probably provides insight into that decision. While it’s not authoritative, it is useful for conceptualizing the standard’s provisions.
Will you continue to be involved in future GASB activities?
Yes, I plan to be involved in future GASB activities through Baker Tilly. For example, our state and local government practice regularly responds to GASB due process documents and is involved in committees that directly interact with GASB. This provides an opportunity for me to continue my involvement in a different capacity. I look forward to the many opportunities ahead to continue interacting with GASB, especially as significant projects such as the financial reporting model continue to evolve.
To submit a question to Susannah Baney about her GASB Fellowship, or learn how Baker Tilly state and local government specialists can help, contact our team.