Accounting Officer

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Accounting Officer is a designation for the senior public servant in a department that has long been used in the United Kingdom and was adopted in 2006 by the Government of Canada as part of the Federal Accountability Act (available at

Brian Glicksman describes the evolution of the term in the UK:

“In the UK the concept of Accounting Officers was in the 1866 Exchequer and Audit Act. That Act required the Treasury to appoint people we now call Accounting Officers. However, their statutory roles under the Act were very limited. The Act merely required the Accounting Officer to prepare the accounts and submit the accounts to the C&AG for audit. In 2000 were placed this part of the 1866 Act but we left the limited statutory responsibilities of Accounting Officers unchanged.

“On top of these very limited foundations, however, we have gradually, over the course of 140 years, erected a quite substantial edifice, giving Accounting Officers important non-statutory responsibilities to which we in the Treasury and Parliament, through the Public Accounts Committee, attach considerable importance. The responsibilities are contained in a Treasury document called the “Accounting Officer Memorandum”. It forms part of a much bigger Treasury document called “Government Accounting”, which codifies the rules and conventions applying to the management of resources in Government departments.”

PCO’s guidance for Accounting Officers appearances before committees

In its 2007 guidance (reference below), the Government of Canada, through the Privy Council Office, states:

The Nature and Scope of Accounting Officer Appearances

“The new accounting officer provisions of the Financial Administration Act (FAA) designate deputy ministers and deputy heads of designated government entities as the accounting officers for their organizations. Accounting officers have a legal obligation to appear before committees of the Senate and House of Commons and answer questions on the management responsibilities set out in section 16.4 of the FAA.

This legal obligation operates within the framework of ministerial responsibility and accountability to Parliament. Ministers, and they alone, are accountable to Parliament for all actions of the executive including management. Although the accounting officer is legally obliged to appear, he or she appears in support of the Minister’s accountability. Hence, it remains appropriate for Ministers to testify before committees on management matters.

The Four Areas of Questioning Under Section 16.4

“Section 16.4 does not create new management responsibilities. Deputies have long had these responsibilities; they are listed to establish the scope of areas for which accounting officers are legally required to appear and answer questions. Concerning matters outside the scope of the four areas, it remains appropriate for committees to work with the department or organization to determine the most appropriate person or persons to appear before the committee. This would not necessarily be the accounting officer.

“Should the accounting officer appear concerning his or her broader responsibilities as deputy, he or she appears on behalf of the Minister and should take guidance from the Minister on the most appropriate approach.

Resolution of Disagreements

“Where, under the process set out in section 16.5 of the FAA, the accounting officer seeks written guidance from the Secretary of the Treasury Board for an unresolved disagreement between the accounting officer and the Minister related to the interpretation or application of a Treasury Board policy, directive or standard, such guidance should be sought through a letter from the accounting officer to the Secretary setting out the issue in a clear and balanced manner, and a copy of this letter should be provided to the Minister. If the matter remains unresolved and the Minister seeks a decision from the Treasury Board, the Minister would be expected to do so through a formal submission to the Treasury Board. Although disagreements that are the subject of this process remain confidential, a copy of the Treasury Board decision is provided to the Auditor General of Canada as a confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Institutional Dynamics within Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.

Other resources

Donald J. Savoie (2016), The Accountability Act breeds its own problems, Policy Options, 18 April 2016, at, accessed 30 August 2016.


Brian Glicksman (2007), The Role of Accounting Officers: A Perspective from the United Kingdom, Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn, p. 22-26, at, accessed 28 August 2016.

Privy Council Office (2007), Accounting Officers: Guidance on Roles, Responsibilities and Appearances Before Parliamentary Committees 2007, at, pdf version at, accessed 28 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 30 August 2016.