Note 1. Summary of Significant Accounting Policies

FY 2003 Performance and Accountability Report
Bureau of Resource Management
December 2003

Reporting Entity and Basis of Consolidation

Image showing the United States Department of State seal.

The accompanying principal financial statements (statements) present the financial activity for the Department of State. The statements include the accounts of all funds under Department control that have been established and maintained to account for the resources entrusted to Department management, or for which the Department acts as a fiscal agent or custodian. The Department maintains General Funds, Special Funds, Revolving Funds, Trust Funds, and Deposit Funds.

  • General and Special Funds are used to record financial transactions under Congressional appropriations or other authorization for spending general revenues.
  • Revolving Funds are established by law to finance a continuing cycle of operations. Receipts derived from such operations are usually available in their entirety for the Fund to use without further action by Congress.
  • Trust Funds are credited with receipts that are generated by the terms of a trust agreement or statute. At the point of collection, these receipts are either available immediately or unavailable depending upon statutory requirements. The largest trust fund is the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Fund (FSRDF).
  • Deposit Funds are established for: (1) amounts received for which the Department is acting as a fiscal agent or custodian; (2) unidentified remittances; (3) monies withheld from payments for goods and services received; and (4) monies held awaiting distribution on the basis of a legal determination.

Basis of Presentation

The accompanying statements have been prepared to report the financial position and results of operations for the Department of State. These statements are prepared as required by the Government Management and Reform Act (GMRA) of 1994 and presented in accordance with form and content requirements contained in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Bulletin No. 01-09, Form and Content of Agency Financial Statements. OMB Bulletin No. 01-09 defines the form and content for annual financial statements that are required to be submitted to the Director of OMB. The statements presented herein are in addition to the financial reports prepared by the Department in accordance with OMB and U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) directives to monitor and control the status and use of budgetary resources.

The statements have been prepared from the Department's books and records, and are in accordance with the Department's accounting policies (the significant policies are summarized below in this Note). The Department's accounting policies follow accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America (GAAP). GAAP for Federal entities is the hierarchy of accounting principles prescribed in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Statement of Auditing Standards No. 91, Federal GAAP Hierarchy.

Basis of Accounting

Transactions are recorded on both an accrual and budgetary basis. Under the accrual basis, exchange revenues are recognized when earned, and expenses are recognized when a liability is incurred. Budgetary accounting facilitates compliance with legal constraints and controls over the use of Federal funds.

Budgets and Budgetary Accounting

Congress annually enacts one-year appropriations that provide the Department with the authority to obligate funds within the respective fiscal year for necessary expenses to carry out mandated program activities. In addition, Congress enacts multi-year appropriations and appropriations that are available until expended. All appropriations are subject to OMB apportionment as well as Congressional restrictions. The Department also implements internal restrictions to ensure efficient and proper use of all appropriations. One-year and multi-year appropriations are canceled and cannot be used for disbursements if five years have passed since the appropriation was last available for obligation.

Revenues and Other Financing Sources

Department operations are financed through appropriations, reimbursement for the provision of goods or services to other Federal agencies, proceeds from the sale of property, certain consular-related and other fees, and donations. In addition, the Department collects passport, visa, and other consular fees that are not retained by the Department but are deposited directly to a Treasury account. The passport and visa fees are reported as earned revenues on the Statement of Net Cost and as a transfer-out of financing sources on the Statement of Changes in Net Position.

For financial statement purposes, appropriations are recorded as a financing source (i.e., Appropriations Used) and reported on the Statement of Changes in Net Position at the time they are recognized as expenditures. Appropriations expended for capitalized property and equipment are recognized when the asset is purchased. The applicable depreciation expense for real and personal property is recorded over the asset's useful life as described below in Property and Equipment.

Work performed for other Federal agencies under reimbursable agreements is initially financed through the account providing the service and is subsequently reimbursed. Reimbursements are recognized as revenue when earned, i.e., goods have been delivered or services rendered, and the associated costs have been incurred.

Administrative support services at overseas posts are provided to other Federal agencies through the International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS). ICASS bills for the services it provides to agencies at overseas posts. These billings are recorded as revenue to ICASS and must cover all overhead costs, operating expenses, and replacement costs for capital assets needed to carry on the operation.

Proceeds from the sale of real property, vehicles, and other personal property are recognized as revenue when the proceeds are credited to the account from which the asset was funded. For non-capitalized property, the full amount realized is recognized as revenue. For capitalized property, revenue or loss is determined by whether the proceeds received were more or less than the net book value of the asset sold. The Department retains proceeds of sale, which are available for purchase of the same or similar category of property.

The Department is authorized to collect and retain specific user fees for machine-readable visas, expedited passport processing, and fingerprint checks on immigrant visa applicants. The Department is also authorized to credit the respective appropriations with (1) fees for the use of Blair House; (2) lease payments and transfers from the International Center Chancery Fees held in Trust to the International Center Project; (3) registration fees for the Office of Defense Trade Controls;(4) reimbursement for international litigation expenses; and (5) reimbursement for training foreign government officials at the Foreign Service Institute.

Generally, donations received in the form of cash or financial instruments are recognized as revenue at their fair value in the period received. Contributions of services are recognized if the services received (a) create or enhance non-financial assets, or (b) require specialized skills that are provided by individuals possessing those skills, which would typically need to be purchased if not donated. Works of art, historical treasures, and similar assets that are added to collections are not recognized at the time of donation. If subsequently sold, proceeds from the sale of these items are recognized in the year of sale.

The Department receives most of the funding it needs to support the Repatriation Loan Program through an annual appropriation and permanent, indefinite borrowing authority. The appropriation has two components: (1) a subsidy portion for the present value of long-term cash flow, and (2) estimated expenses to administer the program. Appropriations are recognized as used at the time the loans are obligated and administrative expenses are incurred.

Fund Balances with Treasury

The Fund Balances with Treasury are available to pay accrued liabilities and finance authorized commitments relative to goods, services, and benefits. The Department does not maintain cash in commercial bank accounts for the funds reported in the Balance Sheet, except for the Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Services, Office of Foreign Missions, Foreign Service National Defined Contributions Retirement Fund, and the International Center, which maintains a commercial account for lease fees held in trust — see Note 8, "Cash and Other Monetary Assets". Treasury processes domestic receipts and disbursements. During 2003 and 2002, the Department operated three Financial Service Centers, which are located in Paris, Bangkok, and Charleston, South Carolina, and provide financial support for the Department and other Federal agencies' operations overseas. The Paris operations were relocated to Charleston and Bangkok during 2003. The U.S. Disbursing Officer at each Center has the delegated authority to disburse funds on behalf of the Treasury.

Accounts Receivable

Intragovernmental Accounts Receivable are due principally from other Federal agencies for ICASS services, reimbursable agreements, and Working Capital Fund (WCF) services. Accounts Receivable from non-Federal entities are primarily the result of International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) receivables for Mexico's share of IBWC activities, Repatriation Loans, and travel advances.

Accounts Receivable from non-Federal entities are subject to the full debt collection cycle and mechanisms, e.g., salary offset, referral to collection agents, and Treasury offset. In addition, Accounts Receivable from non-Federal entities are assessed interest, penalties and administrative fees if they become delinquent. Interest and penalties are assessed at the Current Value of Funds Rate established by Treasury. Except for amounts assessed on FSRDF accounts, any interest, penalties or fees collected are not retained but are treated as miscellaneous receipts and are deposited directly to a Treasury account. Amounts assessed on FSRDF accounts are credited to the FSRDF.

Allowances for uncollectible Accounts Receivable are based on criteria established for each type of receivable. Due to the relatively small number and dollar amount of non-Federal receivables, accounts are independently assessed to determine whether they are collectible and need an offsetting allowance. All Intragovernmental Accounts Receivable are considered collectible. However, an allowance may be established to recognize billing disputes. Similar to non-Federal receivables, Intragovernmental receivables are independently assessed to determine collectibility and the need for an offsetting allowance.

Interest Receivable

Interest earned on investments, but not received as of September 30, is recognized as interest receivable.

Loans Receivable

The Department provides Repatriation Loans for destitute American citizens overseas whereby the Department becomes the lender of last resort. These loans provide assistance to pay for return transportation, food and lodging, or medical expenses. The borrower executes a promissory note without collateral. Consequently, the loans are made anticipating a low rate of recovery. Interest, penalties, and administrative fees are assessed if the loan becomes delinquent.

Advances and Prepayments

Payments made in advance of the receipt of goods and services are recorded as advances or prepayments, and recognized as expenses when the related goods and services are received. Advances are made principally to Department employees for official travel, miscellaneous prepayments and advances to other entities for future services, and salary advances to Department employees transferring to overseas assignments. Advances and prepayments are reported as Other Assets on the Balance Sheet.

Valuation of Investments

The FSRDF investments consist solely of special issues of U.S. Government securities, which are redeemable on demand at par. For financial statement purposes, the investments are therefore valued at par. Interest on investments is paid semi-annually on June 30 and December 31.

The investments of the Gift Funds consist of U.S. guaranteed securities. These investments are reported at the acquisition cost, which equals the face value plus or minus the unamortized premium or discount. Premiums and discounts are amortized over the life of the Treasury bill using the straight-line method.

The Department administers the Israeli-Arab Scholarship and Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship Programs. The Israeli-Arab Scholarship Program provides grants and scholarships to Israeli-Arab students for degree programs at universities and colleges in the United States. The Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship Program honors the late president and increases educational opportunities for young leaders in preparation for and enhancement of their professional careers and advancement of peace through international understanding. The Israeli-Arab Scholarship Fund and Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship Program Trust Fund investments consist of market-based U.S. Treasury Securities. Interest on investments is paid semiannually at various rates. Investments are valued at their par value, net of unamortized premiums and discounts. Premiums and discounts are amortized over the life of the security on an effective interest basis. See Note 5, "Investments."

Photo of a painting by Judith Miller called Water Lillies.

Judith Miller
Water Lillies/Greenbrook Sanctuary #1

Works of Art and High Value Furnishings

The Department has collections of art and furnishings that are held for public exhibition, education, and official entertainment for visiting Chiefs of State, Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, and other distinguished foreign and American guests. The Department has six separate collections: the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the Art Bank, Art in Embassies, Curatorial Services Program, the Library Rare and Special Book Collection, and the Secretary of State's Register of Culturally Significant Property.

The collections consist of items that were donated, purchased using donated or appropriated funds, or are on loan from individuals, organizations, or museums. The Department provides protection and preservation services for these collections.

The items that the Department owns are considered heritage assets (see " Required Supplementary Stewardship Information — Heritage Assets"). In accordance with SFFAS No. 6, Accounting for Property, Plant, and Equipment, no value is assigned to these assets in the Consolidated Balance Sheet. Purchases of items for collections are recorded as an expense in the year of purchase. Proceeds from disposals are recognized as revenue in the year of sale and are designated for future collection acquisitions.


The Department's Consolidated Balance Sheet reflects inventories held by WCF's Publishing Services, and the Supply Services Center and Stock Account. The WCF inventory consists primarily of paper and ink used for printing and reproduction services (Publishing Services), furniture held for sale to bureaus in the Department (Supply Services Center and Stock Account), and publications held for sale.

The WCF's Publishing Services inventory is valued at the latest acquisition cost. The Supply Services Center and Stock Account inventory is valued monthly using a weighted moving average. The inventory value of the publications held for sale is based on the cost of production. Recorded values are adjusted for the results of periodic physical inventories.

Photo showing the front entrance to the Tangeir Old Legation property.
Photo showing the courtyard of the Tangier Old Legation property.

The Tangier Old Legation, the first property that the United States Government acquired for a diplomatic mission, was presented as a gift to the American people by Sultan Moulay Suliman in 1821.

Property and Equipment—Real Property

Real property assets primarily consist of facilities used for U.S. diplomatic missions abroad and capital improvements to these facilities, including unimproved land; residential and functional-use buildings such as embassy/consulate office buildings; office annexes and support facilities; and construction-in-progress. Title to these properties is held under various conditions including fee simple, restricted use, crown lease, and deed of use agreement. Some of these properties are considered historical treasures and are considered multi-use heritage assets. These items are reported on the Balance Sheet and included on the Required Supplementary Stewardship Information—Heritage Assets.

Since 1997, additions to the real property asset accounts have been based on historical costs. Construction-in-Progress represents the costs incurred for new facilities, major rehabilitations, or other improvements in the design or construction stage. After these projects are completed, costs are transferred to Buildings and Structures or Leasehold Improvements as appropriate. The Department capitalizes construction of new buildings and all building acquisitions regardless of cost. The Department also capitalizes improvements greater than $250,000.

Prior to 1997, historical cost information for most of the Department's overseas properties was either unavailable or incomplete. The Department therefore estimated the value of overseas real property assets as of September 30, 1996.

The Department also owns several domestic real properties, including the National Foreign Affairs Training Center (Arlington, Va.); the International Center (Washington, D.C.); the Charleston Financial Services Center (S.C.); the Beltsville Information Management Center (Md.); the Florida Regional Center (Ft. Lauderdale); and consular centers in Charleston (S.C.); Portsmouth (N.H.) and Williamsburg (Ky.). These properties have been recorded at either actual or estimated historical cost.

The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) has buildings and structures related to its boundary preservation, flood control, and sanitation programs. IBWC's buildings and structures are capitalized at cost.

Depreciation of buildings and other structures is computed on a straight-line basis, and depreciated principally over a 30-year period.

Property and Equipment—Personal Property

In general, personal property and equipment with an acquisition cost of $25,000 or more, and a useful life of two or more years is capitalized at cost. However, there are exceptions to this capitalization policy. All vehicles are capitalized, and ADP software costing over $500,000 with a useful life of two or more years is capitalized.

Photo showing a sedan and a security vehicle.

Depreciation of property and equipment is calculated on a straight-line basis over the asset's estimated life with salvage values generally ranging from 5 to 10%. Depreciation begins when the item is put into service. Vehicles are depreciated over periods ranging from 3 to 6 years. Other personal property and equipment is depreciated over periods generally ranging from 5 to 8 years. Telecommunication equipment is depreciated over 20 years. ADP software is generally amortized over the lesser of its estimated useful life or seven years.

Capital Leases

Leases are accounted for as capital leases if they meet one of the following criteria: (1) the lease transfers ownership of the property by the end of the lease term; (2) the lease contains an option to purchase the property at a bargain price; (3) the lease term is equal to or greater than 75% of the estimated useful life of the property; or (4) the present value of the minimum lease payment equals or exceeds 90% of the fair value of the leased property. The initial recording of the lease's value (with a corresponding liability) is the lesser of the net present value of the lease payments or the fair value of the leased property. Capital leases are amortized over the term of the lease.


The Department awards educational, cultural exchange, and refugee assistance grants to various individuals, universities, and not-for-profit organizations. Budgetary obligations are recorded when grants are awarded. Grant funds are disbursed in two ways: grantees draw funds commensurate with their immediate cash needs via the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Payments Management System (PMS); or grantees submit invoices. In both cases, the expense is recorded upon disbursement.

Accounts Payable and Other Liabilities

Accounts payable and other liabilities represent the amounts accrued for employees' salaries; employee and annuitant benefits; contracts for goods and services received but unpaid at the end of the fiscal year; and unearned revenue from the sale of real property. The Department changed its method for computing the value of domestic accounts payable for FY 2003. In addition to payables recorded through the Department's normal business activities, domestic accounts payable also includes an estimate of subsequent disbursements attributable to FY 2003 payables based upon an average of actual disbursements over the last 5-year period. In 2002, domestic accounts payable were based on actual post-2002 disbursements.

Annual, Sick and Other Leave

Annual leave is accrued as it is earned, and the accrual is reduced as leave is taken. At the end of each fiscal year, the balance in the accrued annual leave liability account is adjusted to reflect current pay rates. The amount of the adjustment is recorded as an expense. Current or prior year appropriations are not available to fund annual leave earned but not taken. Funding occurs in the year the leave is taken and payment is made. Sick leave and other types of non-vested leave are expensed as taken.

Employee Benefit Plans

Retirement Plans: Civil Service employees participate in either the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Members of the Foreign Service participate in either the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) or the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS).

Employees covered under CSRS contribute 7% of their salary; the Department contributes 7%. Employees covered under CSRS also contribute 1.45% of their salary to Medicare insurance; the Department makes a matching contribution. On January 1, 1987, FERS went into effect pursuant to Public Law 99-335. Most employees hired after December 31, 1983, are automatically covered by FERS and Social Security. Employees hired prior to January 1, 1984, were allowed to join FERS or remain in CSRS. Employees participating in FERS contribute 0.80% of their salary, with the Department making contributions of 10.70%. FERS employees also contribute 6.20% to Social Security and 1.45% to Medicare insurance. The Department makes matching contributions to both. A primary feature of FERS is that it offers a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) into which the Department automatically contributes 1% of pay and matches employee contributions up to an additional 4%.

Foreign Service employees hired prior to January 1, 1984, participate in FSRDS with certain exceptions. FSPS was established pursuant to Section 415 of Public Law 99-335, which became effective June 6, 1986. Foreign Service employees hired after December 31, 1983, participate in FSPS with certain exceptions. FSRDS employees contribute 7.25% of their salary; the Department contributes 7.25%. FSPS employees contribute 1.35% of their salary; the Department contributes 20.22%. Both FSRDS and FSPS employees contribute 1.45% of their salary to Medicare; the Department matches their contributions. Similar to FERS, FSPS also offers the TSP described above.

Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) and Third Country Nationals (TCNs) at overseas posts who were hired prior to January 1, 1984, are covered under CSRS. FSNs and TCNs hired after that date are covered under a variety of local government plans in compliance with the host country's laws and regulations. In cases where the host country does not mandate plans or the plans are inadequate, employees are covered by a privately managed pension plan that conforms to the prevailing practices of comparable employers.

Health Insurance: Most American employees participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), a voluntary program that provides protection for enrollees and eligible family members in case of illness and/or accident. Under FEHBP, the Department contributes the employer's share of the premium as determined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Life Insurance: Unless specifically waived, employees are covered by the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLIP). FEGLIP automatically covers eligible employees for basic life insurance in amounts equivalent to an employee's annual pay, rounded up to the next thousand dollars plus $2,000. The Department pays one-third and employees pay two-thirds of the premium. Enrollees and their family members are eligible for additional insurance coverage but the enrollee is responsible for the cost of the additional coverage.

Other Post Employment Benefits: The Department does not report CSRS, FERS, FEHBP or FEGLIP assets, accumulated plan benefits, or unfunded liabilities applicable to its employees; OPM reports this information. As required by SFFAS No. 5, Accounting for Liabilities of the Federal Government, the Department reports the full cost of employee benefits for the programs that OPM administers. The Department recognizes an expense and imputed financing source for the annualized unfunded portion of CSRS, post-retirement health benefits, and life insurance for employees covered by these programs. The Department recognized $84.5 million and $70.2 million in 2003 and 2002, respectively, for unfunded pension and post-retirement benefits. The additional costs are not actually owed or paid to OPM, and thus are not reported on the Balance Sheet as a liability, but instead are reported as an imputed financing source from costs absorbed from others on the Statement of Changes in Net Position.

Future Workers' Compensation Benefits

The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) provides income and medical cost protection to cover Federal employees injured on the job or who have incurred a work-related occupational disease, and beneficiaries of employees whose death is attributable to job-related injury or occupational disease. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) administers the FECA program. DOL initially pays valid claims and bills the employing Federal agency. DOL calculates the actuarial liability for future workers' compensation benefits and reports to each agency its share of the liability.

The present value of the liability for 2003 and 2002 was computed using a discount rate of 4.9% and 5.2%, respectively, for all years; in 2003 and 2002, the Department's liability changed by $5.4 million and ($.4) million, respectively. The total actuarial liability for which the Department is responsible totaled $61.6 million as of September 30, 2003 and $56.2 million as of September 30, 2002.

Valuation of FSN Separation Liability

Separation payments are made to eligible FSN employees who voluntarily resign, retire, or lose their jobs due to a reduction in force, and are in countries that require a voluntary separation payment. The amount required to finance the current and future costs of FSN separation pay is determined annually.

Actuarial Present Value of Projected Plan Benefits for the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Program

The Department's financial statements present the Pension Actuarial Liability of the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Program (the "Plan") as the actuarial present value of projected plan benefits, as required by the SFFAS No. 5, Accounting for Liabilities of the Federal Government. The Pension Actuarial Liability represents the future periodic payments provided for current employee and retired Plan participants, less the future employee and employing Federal agency contributions, stated in current dollars.

Future periodic payments include benefits expected to be paid to (1) retired or terminated employees or their beneficiaries; (2) beneficiaries of employees who have died; and (3) present employees or their beneficiaries, including refunds of employee contributions as specified by Plan provisions. Total projected service is used to determine eligibility for retirement benefits. The value of voluntary, involuntary, and deferred retirement benefits is based on projected service and assumed salary increases. The value of benefits for disabled employees or survivors of employees is determined by multiplying the benefit the employee or survivor would receive on the date of disability or death, by a ratio of service at the valuation date to projected service at the time of disability or death.

Under existing law, an actuary from the Treasury determines the Pension Actuarial Liability. This year, in order to meet its statutory requirement, Treasury contracted with independent actuaries to prepare the valuation. The Pension Actuarial Liability is calculated by applying actuarial assumptions to adjust the projected plan benefits to reflect the discounted time value of money and the probability of payment (by means of decrements such as death, disability, withdrawal or retirement) between the valuation date and the expected date of payment.

The economic assumptions used for valuing the Plan were revised this year so that they would be the same as the economic assumptions adopted during FY 2003 by the Civil Service Board of Actuaries for valuing CSRS and FERS. The prior assumption of 3.75% for annual increase in inflation and 6.75% for the interest assumption were both decreased by 0.50%. The annual salary increase assumption of 4.25% was decreased by 0.25 to 4.00%.

The Plan uses the aggregate entry age normal actuarial cost method, whereby the present value of projected benefits for each employee is allocated on a level basis (such as a constant percentage of salary) over the employee's service between entry age and assumed exit age. The portion of the present value allocated to each year is referred to as the normal cost.

The calculation of normal cost considers both economic and demographic assumptions. Based on the new economic assumptions, the plan actuary revised the normal cost percentages. The table below presents the normal costs for FY 2003 and FY 2002.


Normal costs for Fiscal Years 2003 and 2002
Normal Cost FY 2003 FY 2002
FSRDS 32.52% 30.65%
FSPS 23.23% 21.57%


Actuarial assumptions are based on the presumption that the Plan will continue. If the Plan terminates, different actuarial assumptions and other factors might be applicable for determining the actuarial present value of accumulated plan benefits.

Net Position

The Department's net position contains the following components:

  1. Unexpended Appropriations — the sum of undelivered orders and unobligated balances. Undelivered orders represent the amount of obligations incurred for goods or services ordered, but not yet received. An unobligated balance is the amount available after deducting cumulative obligations from total budgetary resources. As obligations for goods or services are incurred, the available balance is reduced.
  2. Cumulative Results of Operations — include (1) the accumulated difference between revenues and financing sources less expenses since inception; (2) the Department's investment in capitalized assets financed by appropriation; (3) donations; and (4) unfunded liabilities, whose liquidation may require future Congressional appropriations or other budgetary resources.

Foreign Currency

Accounting records for the Department are maintained in U.S. dollars, while a significant amount of the Department's overseas expenditures are in foreign currencies. For accounting purposes, overseas obligations and disbursements are recorded in U.S. dollars based on the rate of exchange as of the date of the transaction. Foreign currency payments are made by the U.S. Disbursing Officers located at the Department's Financial Service Centers.