Job Descriptions, Definitions Roles, Responsibility: Budget Analysts

Deciding how to efficiently distribute limited financial resources is an important challenge in all organizations. In most large and complex organizations, this task would be nearly impossible without budget analysts. These workers play the primary role in the development, analysis, and execution of budgets, which are used to allocate current resources and estimate future financial requirements. Without effective budget analysis and feedback about budgetary problems, many private and public organizations could become bankrupt.

Budget analysts can be found in private industry, nonprofit organizations, and the public sector. In private sector firms, a budget analyst examines, analyzes, and seeks new ways to improve efficiency and increase profits. Although analysts working in nonprofit and governmental organizations usually are not concerned with profits, they still try to find the most efficient distribution of funds and other resources among various departments and programs.

Budget analysts have many responsibilities in these organizations, but their primary task is providing advice and technical assistance in the preparation of annual budgets. At the beginning of each budget cycle, managers and department heads submit proposed operational and financial plans to budget analysts for review. These plans outline prospective programs, including proposed funding increases and new initiatives, estimated costs and expenses, and capital expenditures needed to finance these programs.

Analysts examine the budget estimates or proposals for completeness, accuracy, and conformance with established procedures, regulations, and organizational objectives. Sometimes, they employ cost-benefit analysis to review financial requests, assess program tradeoffs, and explore alternative funding methods. They also examine past and current budgets and research economic and financial developments that affect the organizationís spending. This process enables analysts to evaluate proposals in terms of the organizationís priorities and financial resources.

After this initial review process, budget analysts consolidate the individual departmental budgets into operating and capital budget summaries. These summaries contain comments and statements that support or argue against funding requests. Budget summaries then are submitted to senior management or, as is often the case in local and State governments, to appointed or elected officials. Budget analysts then help the chief operating officer, agency head, or other top managers analyze the proposed plan and devise possible alternatives if the projected results are unsatisfactory. The final decision to approve the budget, however, usually is made by the organization head in a private firm or by elected officials, such as the State legislative body, in government.

Throughout the remainder of the year, analysts periodically monitor the budget by reviewing reports and accounting records to determine if allocated funds have been spent as specified. If deviations appear between the approved budget and actual performance, budget analysts may write a report providing reasons for the variations, along with recommendations for new or revised budget procedures. In order to avoid or alleviate deficits, they may recommend program cuts or reallocation of excess funds. They also inform program managers and others within their organization of the status and availability of funds in different budget accounts. Before any changes are made to an existing program or a new one is implemented, a budget analyst assesses the programís efficiency and effectiveness. Analysts also may be involved in long-range planning activities such as projecting future budget needs.

The amount of data and information that budget analysts are able to analyze has greatly increased through the use of computerized financial software programs. The analysts also make extensive use of spreadsheet, database, and word processing software.

Budget analysts have seen their role broadened as limited funding has led to downsizing and restructuring throughout private industry and government. Not only do they develop guidelines and policies governing the formulation and maintenance of the budget, but they also measure organizational performance, assess the effects of various programs and policies on the budget, and help to draft budget-related legislation. In addition, budget analysts sometimes conduct training sessions for company or government agency personnel regarding new budget procedures.