While information is easy to access regarding how much a local government spends on the services it provides, many constituents wonder about the efficiency and effectiveness of their local service delivery. How much does a fire service call cost and what is the response time? How much does it cost to collect a ton of trash? What is the cost per transaction to pay the bills? These types of performance measures enhance the public’s understanding of a local government’s operations, beyond their budget and financial statements.
Many local governments currently use measures to analyze their performance, but few have taken the step of systematically reporting the information to users. Traditional financial reporting shows a local government’s available resources and the usage of the resources. But many constituents would appreciate understanding not just what was spent, but what was accomplished. Supplemental service effort accomplishment (SEA) reporting can assist in telling that full story.
In an effort to provide a more complete picture of the results of local governments, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) issued Suggested Guidelines for Voluntary Reporting, SEA Performance Information. Unlike GASB accounting standards, this reporting is optional, so most local governments rely only on the traditional financial reporting. When they do, they miss an opportunity to broaden the public’s conversation from what was spent to what was accomplished.
How SEA works
SEA can enhance financial reporting by providing a comprehensive analysis of the way a local government is managing its resources. SEA information allows citizens to better evaluate a local government’s performance in delivering services. Ultimately, SEA reporting should assist all users of this information such as citizens, state legislators, city council members, and other interested persons to evaluate the operational efficiency of the services that a local government provides. It also paints a picture of the local government’s effectiveness in achieving their goals and objectives.
SEA performance information includes data regarding a local government’s:
- Inputs (like the number of police officers, or tons of salt used to treat roads).
- Outputs (such as the graduation rate at area high schools, or miles of roadways maintained each year).
- Outcomes (for instance, percentage of emergency medical service incidents responded to within 5 minutes, or the physical condition rating of roadways).
- Cost-output and cost-outcome measures (cost per jail bed, or cost per lane miles resurfaced).
The local government has the flexibility to determine the measurements which are most meaningful to its operations but GASB has outlined the reporting methodology. The four essential components described in the Suggested Guidelines set out the kinds of information an effective SEA report would contain:
Purpose and scope—this component explains why the local government has elected to report specific SEA performance information and which departments or functions it relates to.
Major goals and objectives—this component provides a basis for assessing the degree to which a local government met or did not meet the intended results of its various programs and services by describing the major goals and objectives established by the local government.
Key measures of SEA performance—in this component, the local government identifies the key indicators that are most important to report users and that reflect a local government’s efforts toward achieving its goals and objectives.
Discussion and analysis of results and challenges—this narrative component discusses the factors that impacted the local government’s achievement of results and discusses the local government’s plan for addressing the future.
GASB has provided a framework for local governments to articulate their service efforts and accomplishments in a methodology which helps users of the information to better assess the local government’s efficiency and effectiveness. This is the kind of information that leads to productive conversations and impactful decisions. Those governmental entities who’ve conducted SEA reporting have found it can be a tool that enhances the public’s understanding of the challenges and triumphs of their local governments.