What to do after hitting submit: Steps for increasing data-quality confidence

Aug 10, 2021

After hours of time and energy, you've submitted your annual report for fiscal year 2020. Congratulations! Now you may be asking, “Is there anything more I can do?” Our answer is, “Yes!”

Take a look at your data and answer these questions:

  • Is my government's data accurate?
  • Is my government's data consistent?
  • Did I use the most accurate BARS accounts?
  • What could happen if I answer “no” to any of these questions?

Want more information to help you answer these questions? Keep reading to learn what data specialists at the State Auditor's Office do to analyze your government's information after you submit, and why it's important for you to do the same.

Bad data in, bad data out

The financial data you submit to SAO each year is based on the same underlying data supporting your financial statements. Auditors use this data to complete a range of audits, and then it is made available to the public through the Financial Intelligence Tool (FIT). Constituents, the press, the Legislature, lenders or bond rating agencies and others may rely on this data, so it's important for every local government to make sure it is accurate.

Inaccurate data takes many forms

SAO analyzes data to find solutions for decreasing errors. Here are some of the errors we noticed in the 2019 data:

  • 50 cash-basis governments incorrectly reported negative cash-basis fund balances
  • 31 cities reported managerial funds which may not have been rolled together, as the BARS manual requires
  • 100 internal service funds were reported without significant internal service fund sales and services BARS accounts
  • Nearly 50 percent of GAAP enterprise special purpose districts were missing BARS accounts for capital outlays (13 percent of GAAP enterprise funds were missing depreciation accounts)
  • Up to 60 percent of GAAP government schedule 01s did not tie to their submitted financial statements

If these errors are material, they can affect your government's financial audit, create unreliable financial health ratios or trends the public sees in FIT, or reflect poorly on the hard work your government put into preparing the annual financial report.

Good news: SAO has strategies to help you identify data quality issues.

What more can I do?

Comparing and reviewing your data can reveal differences so you can ask, “Were my government's reporting decisions consistent and correct?” Further, asking questions about how you used BARS accounts will help confirm your government's reporting decisions.

SAO's Center for Government Innovation created this checklist to help you build additional confidence in your data's accuracy. The checklist includes some of the same questions SAO uses to search for data inconsistencies statewide. Open FIT, log in using your SAO SAW account, and start analyzing your data today!

Have questions about your annual report or how to make corrections? Contact SAO at LGCSFeedback@sao.wa.gov or via the SAO HelpDesk!