Financial Management: Survey of Capitalization Threshold and Other Policies for Property, Plant, and Equipment

GAO-03-42 Published: Oct 15, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2002.
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In passing the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act and a range of other financial management reform legislation, Congress has sought to overcome the historical lack of reliable, useful, and timely information with which to make informed decisions, measure and control costs, manage for results, and ensure financial accountability on an ongoing basis. Reported capitalization threshold levels at the 14 agencies GAO surveyed ranged from zero to $250,000. Despite the sharp increase in the capitalization threshold, all but one of the 14 agencies responded that they maintained property records for the government's general property, plant, and equipment (PP&E) not capitalized on the balance sheet, citing safeguarding of PP&E and supporting agency operations as the key reasons for maintaining such information. Federal capitalization thresholds are significantly higher than those reported by the private sector entities GAO surveyed. In some cases, the federal capitalization thresholds for real property were up to 50 times higher than those noted in the private sector. In contrast to the wide variance between federal agency and private sector capitalization threshold policies, federal agency useful life policies were generally similar to those found in the private sector. Estimated useful life classifications within the federal government ranged from 2 years to 40 years for personal property and 5 years to 100 years for real property. GAO did identify several differences attributable to the variety of assets owned by the entities that participated in its survey, rather than any systematic differences in useful life classifications.

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