1. How should I now refer to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report?
The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommends referring to the report by either the full name or by using a shortened format that does not include the four-letter acronym. For instance, the “Annual Report” is advised, the four-letter acronym, even pronounced by saying each letter individually, is still not advised.
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) is currently evaluating whether to rename the report to completely dissociate from the acronym. GFOA fully supports this effort.
2. We’ve been using this term for a long time. What is offensive about the acronym?
The acronym for the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report when said aloud, which is commonplace, is pronounced in the same way as a profoundly offensive racial slur in South Africa. It is a term that took on its derogatory meaning during Apartheid where it was used to degrade, undermine, and strip South Africans of their dignity and humanity.
Additionally, the acronym has the same pronunciation as the Arabic word that means unbeliever – which is often applied in a derogatory manner.
3. Isn’t the acronym currently built into key initiatives at GFOA? How is that being handled?
Yes. The acronym was formerly the name for GFOA’s awards program and one of its standing committees. Under this new policy, these names have officially changed to the Certificate of Achievement Program and the Accounting, Auditing and Financial Reporting Committee, respectively.
4. What is GFOA doing to ensure other words and acronyms don’t create cause for concern?
To our knowledge, there are no other concerning words or phrases commonplace in the government finance profession. Our point of view is that while there may always be biases and concerns of which we are unaware, when confronted with new information on how our words or actions may have unintended impact it is our responsibility to give that information serious consideration. We will continue to listen and learn from our employees, members, and communities, taking action as needed to ensure alignment between our collective values and professional standards.
5. As a U.S based organization, why is this pronunciation concern relevant?
GFOA takes its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously.
While GFOA recognizes that the spellings of the South African slur, the Arabic term, and the acronym are different – as are the contexts in which they are used – the organization has determined with significant member input that as influential community leaders with a shared commitment to inclusivity and global partnerships, there is a responsibility to act. While doing so, GFOA and its partners can demonstrate our values in action, become more intentionally inclusive, and create safer spaces for the important work that we conduct at home and abroad.
For many years GFOA has maintained a strong relationship with the Chartered Institute of Government Finance Audit and Risk Officers (CIGFARO) in South Africa. Much of the research, best practices, and programs that GFOA produces are relevant to and recognized by government finance officers around the world. Through the years, GFOA has been a leading industry partner helping to build financial best practices in South Africa’s emerging democracy.
6. How did GFOA learn about this offensive pronunciation?
This was brought to the attention to GFOA leadership by concerned members of our community.
7. What process did GFOA use to reach this decision?
Upon learning of the challenges associated with a term common across the industry, GFOA’s leadership team quickly agreed that this issue needed to be further evaluated. GFOA staff was asked to stop using the acronym in their daily communications while membership, employees, and other stakeholders could be consulted.
In a matter of weeks, our organization held more than 12 focus groups and solicited the input and counsel of diverse contributors both inside and outside our organization. Over the past few weeks, we learned that the vast majority of those engaged felt that 1) the traditional and common use of this acronym was an issue worth addressing, 2) that change could be easily and cost-effectively accomplished through clear communication and a shared commitment to advocate for meaningful change, and 3) that this initiative provided an opportunity to demonstrate our professionalism, values, and thought leadership in action.
These learnings cemented our desire to move swiftly and decisively to encourage elimination of the acronym. We believe that this action is in full alignment with our professional code of ethics.
8. What else is GFOA doing to put into action its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
We are working hard to find new opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our organization is currently undergoing an internal transformation as we look critically at our own internal workplace policies, the interactions and support we provide to our members, and the way in which we engage with partners. We are proud of the diverse make-up of our internal staff – from the board, to every employee. And we are working to incorporate our values into every aspect of how we do business.
In 2019, we amended the code of ethics to include a specific commitment to diversity and inclusion, an important step in making public our responsibility and the responsibility of our members to these initiatives.
In the summer of 2020, we established the Racial Equity Taskforce, an internal group that has developed programs and helped inform our long-term internal and external approach to racial equity at GFOA.
9. Does GFOA recommend members remove the acronym from their websites?
At this time, GFOA’s recommendation is to eliminate use of the acronym as it extends to any future written and verbal communications. While we support the full removal of the acronym from any digital assets, each local government must determine what resources are available to carry out additional implementation or historic adjustments related to this new recommendation. It is acceptable for localities to post the available Statement of Name Change Document to the database or website alerting interested stakeholders to the name change and the effective date. In this way, when someone searches for the acronym they will find the notification referencing the new way forward.
10. What if GASB decides not to change the name of the report?
We believe moving our industry away from the acronym is the right thing to do and that GASB is very likely to move in the same direction. Regardless, GFOA does not intend to bring back this term.
11. Will there be a penalty for members or partners that continue to use the acronym?
We believe our members and partners hold a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as deep as our own. We are confident that as proven professionals they will help us lead on this issue.