Governmental Accounting Made Easy

By Warren Ruppel

Wiley, ISBN 0-471-64868-X; $29.95 hardcover; 277 pages

Reviewed by Michele Mark Levine

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APRIL 2005 - It is troubling how few people in society, including the educated, the public-spirited, and the otherwise financially literate, can (and do) pick up financial statements from their state or local government and glean a basic understanding of its financial position and results of operations. In Governmental Accounting Made Easy, author Warren Ruppel states that his goal in writing the book is to introduce government accounting to nonaccountants, or to those with accounting knowledge limited to the commercial or not-for-profit models. His intended audience is those involved with government finance, such as through bond underwriting and rating, and those with a more casual or personal interest in understanding government financial statements. (He specifically directs accountants and auditors with a professional interest to his more comprehensive book, GAAP for Governments, also published by Wiley.) Based solely on this objective, I had positive expectations for the book.

The book is well organized, with an introduction that builds a foundation for those with little or no accounting background. Chapters 2 through 6 address distinguishing government accounting topics—such as multiple measurement foci and bases of accounting—that are unique to governmental GAAP, and fund accounting, the various governmental financial statements and reports readers may encounter, the reporting entity concept, and how special activities like taxes and intergovernmental grants are accounted for. The remaining chapters discuss capital assets and pensions, as well as other selected topics, and a preview of anticipated future developments. Ruppel’s writing style is informal, with occasional interjections of humor and several gentle gibes at the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Many excellent examples, elegantly simple and illustrative of the concepts, are set apart from the main text, as are several “expert tips.” These are especially helpful, as the broad language common to accounting standards is sometimes employed by the author in the main body of the work.

Ruppel confesses that treatment of certain topics cannot be done adequately in the spirit of his title (“made easy”), but in most cases he finds good simplifying assumptions, clearly stated, and indicates that details of complex issues are left to more technical literature. When discussing challenging topics, the content is organized such that a general understanding can be obtained by reading a short passage, followed by an optional in-depth treatment.

A few difficulties arise because the author attempts to reach readers with a wide range of knowledge and also to make the book usable as a primer or reference guide. Some terms and concepts are explained in multiple places, while others are explained only once, not necessarily at their first usage or with a reference to the explanation. A glossary would be a welcome addition.

Despite stating that he intends to discuss reporting only under the current (post–GASB 34) reporting model, the author points out on many occasions where the new model and the old diverge. This adds an interesting historical perspective, but also needless complexity. Ruppel also discusses the relevant GASB pronouncements and other technical citations, which is not necessary for the intended audience. While numerous illustrations of financial statements are included, they are devoid of any annotation, and even of actual numbers, which would allow a novice reader to see how these nontraditionally formatted statements flow.

Governmental Accounting Made Easy is an excellent guide for those first trying to understand financial statements of state and local governments not as accountants or auditors, but as interested professionals or simply as citizens and taxpayers. The author has written an intelligent book that seeks to make important information more accessible, by making it if not quite easy, then at least easier.

Michele Mark Levine, MPA, CPA, is the director of accounting services for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. She is also a member and past chair of the NYSSCPA’s Government Accounting and Auditing Committee, and has served on committees of the AICPA and the Government Finance Officers Association. Levine has frequent dealings with Ruppel in the course of her work and professional duties.




















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