2023 CFO of the Year: Cris Johnston

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(IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Director | Office of Management and Budget, State of Indiana

Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2019 appointed Cris Johnston director of the Office of Management and Budget after he served about a year as Holcomb’s deputy chief of staff. The office oversees key departments, including the State Budget Agency, Department of Revenue, Department of Local Government Finance, Indiana Finance Authority and the Management Performance Hub.

Major accomplishments
“The OMB structure has had the good fortune to be served well by strong leaders and dedicated public servants over the years,” Johnston said. 

The budget agency has been true to its guiding principles of fiscal discipline. The Department of Revenue recently completed the five-year modernization of its tax-processing system on time and on budget. Other departments and boards have also experienced their own accomplishments.

Challenges overcome
In the last few years, states and local governments have received a significant amount of federal funds, he said. “It is a great opportunity to take new approaches or introduce pilot programs to address problems or improve our [residents’] quality of life,” Johnston said. “But because of the uncertainty of the sustainability of these federal funds, programmatic decisions made today could have serious impacts on future budget development and potential demands on state revenues.” OMB has been stressing the importance of spending these funds on one-time uses, such as capital projects, and avoiding a long-term commitment without a sustainability plan or willingness to end a program. 

Career path
Out of college, Johnston started as an internal auditor in the commercial banking industry (where he learned skills and concepts he still uses today). His public service career began in 1988 in the Indiana Treasurer of State’s Office, where he started as a portfolio manager and eventually became chief deputy treasurer. From 1992 to 2005, he worked for Crowe Horwath, and in 2005, he joined former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration as executive director of the Office of Management and Budget’s Division of Government Efficiency and later, as deputy chief of staff in the Governor’s Office. From 2013-2018, he was a director for
KSM Consulting.

My job would be easier if …
“The state coffers were less plentiful,” he said. “I did not fully appreciate what prior budget officials (from both political parties) meant when they stated the role is a lot easier when there is no money.”•

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