Understanding the Financial Report of the United States Government

GAO-18-239SP: Published: Feb 15, 2018. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2018.


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Dawn B. Simpson
(202) 512-3406


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Reliable, useful, and timely financial and performance information is needed to make sound decisions on the current results and future direction of vital federal programs and policies. The Secretary of the Treasury, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, annually prepares the Financial Report of the United States Government (Financial Report). The Financial Report is intended for use by all interested parties, including Members of Congress, federal executives, and federal program managers, as well as by citizens and others such as members of the news media, who may analyze and interpret the Financial Report's more complex and detailed information for the general public.
The goal of the Financial Report, and the subject of this guide, is to provide a comprehensive overview of the federal government's finances. As described in the Financial Report, significant issues regarding the reliability and presentation of the federal government's financial information still need to be addressed. For example, several long-standing material weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other scope limitations have prevented GAO from being able to express an opinion on the federal government's consolidated financial statements. The Financial Report offers certain valuable insights into the overall financial operations, condition, position, and financial outlook of the federal government.
GAO prepared this guide to the Financial Report to help those who seek to gain a baseline understanding of the significant information provided in the primary components that make up the Financial Report, especially the consolidated financial statements. This guide explains the purpose of each Financial Report component and provides illustrative financial information to focus readers on the kinds of significant information found in the various parts of the Financial Report. Because the illustrative financial information in this guide minimizes detail in order to highlight significant line items, it does not display or explain all of the items included in the Financial Report.
This guide supersedes GAO-09-946SP, Understanding the Primary Components of the Annual Financial Report of the United States Government.

For more information, contact Dawn B. Simpson at (202) 512-3406 or simpsondb@gao.gov.

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