The Native American Finance Officers Association works to keep tribal governments and businesses abreast of accounting standards and changes in financial management as they evolve.
Since tribal governments follow the “generally accepted accounting principles” set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, a board established by the Financial Accounting Foundation and recognized as the official source of these principles, NAFOA provides support in helping tribal governments and their entities understand these.
Because of this need, NAFOA also joined in 2000 the Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Council, a council appointed by the FAF, to further its work and the understanding of issues specific to tribal governments.
“NAFOA approached the Financial Accounting Foundation in 1999 to see if it could have representation with the GASAC,” said Corinne Wilson, Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone, a NAFOA board member. “They didn’t know at the time that tribes were governments and checked with the Department of Interior.”
Now NAFOA provides American Indian governments representation on the GASAC, which enables GASB to help with setting standards that aid and reflect the various types of governmental bodies – local, state and tribal – in the country.
“When we do our accounting and financial statements, they are in accord with GASB standards,” said Wilson, a CPA with Moss Adams LLP, who represented NAFOA on GASAC from 2000-2006.
NAFOA provides feedback to the advisory council on tribal governments and how the standards would affect tribal governments, and the GASAC constantly meets as changes occur in the marketplace, Wilson said.
For GASAC, having NAFOA on the advisory council has been a win-win situation, said Dean Mead, GASB research manager. “It has given us insights into the unique issues that tribal governments confront and gives them a voice in the standard-setting process that they previously didn’t have.”
In addition to serving on GASAC, NAFOA has written tribal implementation and gaming guides to assist tribes in financial management.
“If we publish something, we run it through GASB to make sure whatever we’re saying follows the standards,” Wilson said.
One measure of NAFOA’s importance on the GASAC is that the council sets its priorities for its research and technical projects for issues that are prevailing and need to be addressed, said Ryan Claw, NAFOA board treasurer and GASAC representative for the past three years.
“As a GASAC representative, I can voice about accounting issues that are affecting tribal governments,” said Claw, Tohono O’odham Nation member and treasurer.
For example, Claw said GASB had been considering a research project with the “reporting entity,” also known as “Statement 14” in government reporting.
“‘Statement 14’ means how inclusive the reporting is of the governments’ entities when you’re preparing financial statements,” he said. “Each tribal government is unique and how they classify a ‘reporting entity’ is unique and depends on how all of their entities are formulated.”
The existing guidance allows for some broad judgment such as whether a certain entity should be included with the primary government entity.
“From my own experience, we have relationships with our political subdivisions at the Tohono O’odham Nation, and I just felt that additional guidance was necessary and would be a good project for the GASB to undertake,” Claw said. “When you look at the existing guidance out there, there’s a lot of judgment with auditors and accountants. Just being a representative, I can say there are some issues out there with the tribal governments. I can give some elevated priority regarding issues from my end.”
By joining the GASAC, NAFOA has increased the exposure and understanding that tribes are governments, Wilson said.
“We follow the same accounting standards, and we have an opportunity to provide feedback when they’re setting standards and researching technical government accounting issues,” she said.
Another benefit is that Indian representation helps tribal councils and people in Indian country.
“That’s why we created the gaming guide.”
Both GASB and GASAC have been favorable to NAFOA, Claw said.
NAFOA, in turn, relays the new accounting standards and information to its members, especially during its conferences.
“Another tool is we’ve been using is a Web site that includes information that I’ve provided as a GASAC representative to all of the members of our organization,” Claw said.
He posts this information to a blog that he updates periodically at www.nafoa.blogspot.com.
“It’s just more examples of meetings I go to, and it’s an attempt to try to get feedback from our membership.”