This paper analyzes two types of potential intangible public-sector assets for consideration by public-sector accounting boards. Government investments in health and social programs can create two potential intangible assets: the intangible infrastructure used to deliver the health or social program and the enhanced human capital embodied in the recipients of program services. Because neither of these assets is currently recognized in a government's year-end financial statements or broader general-purpose financial reports (GPFR), these reports may underrepresent the government's true fiscal and service capacity.
The paper uses an international accounting standards framework to analyze: whether investments in health and social programs create intangible assets that meet the definition of an asset as set out by International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), whether they are assets of the government and whether they are recognizable for the purpose of financial reporting.
The intangible infrastructure asset created to facilitate the delivery of health and social programs would often qualify as a recognizable asset of the government. However, the enhanced recipient human capital asset created through the delivery of health and social programs would, in most instances, not qualify as a recognizable asset of the government, though there likely would be benefits from reporting on it through GPFRs or other mechanisms.
This paper makes two contributions. First, it identifies a previously overlooked intangible asset – the infrastructure created to facilitate the delivery of health and social programs. Second, it presents an argument regarding why, even when it fails to generate a recognizable intangible asset to government, it would be valuable for government to report such investments in supplementary statements.