Army Finance Command growing, preparing for service-wide audit

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 06, 2016) -- About seven months ago, the Army sent a requested budget to Congress, as it's done for more than 200 years now, and asked for $148 billion to fund its operations around the globe.

With a U.S. population approaching 320 million people, paying for the Army averages out to about $462 per American per year, for a service that spends about $16 million every hour.

The U.S. Army Financial Management Command has been tasked with getting the Army "auditable," which means ensuring that every financial transaction is properly recorded, in a standardized way, so that outside auditors can demonstrate that the Army is making good use of taxpayer dollars.

It seems like a lot of money -- and it is. But that funding pays for Soldier salaries, new rifles, ammunition, food, vehicles, gasoline, aviation fuel, tents, clothing, computers, body armor, medical care for Soldiers and families, facility maintenance and every other product, resource or service the Army consumes.

Both Congress and taxpayers have a right to know that the money they give to the Army is being well spent, said Maj. Gen. David C. Coburn, who took command of United States Army Financial Management Command in March, and who was promoted to major general in June.

The Army will need to become "auditable" in order for the Congress and the taxpayer to be assured that the Army is spending taxpayer dollars exactly the way it's directed. Auditability is supposed to be achieved by the start of fiscal year 2017 -- that's Oct. 1, 2016.

"We are just not there," Coburn said. "So what we are trying to do now is show progress, show Congress we are serious about this, and that we are doing the things we need to do to march toward auditability."

The USAFMCOM didn't always have a two-star general at the helm. In fact, Coburn is the first two-star to take command of the organization. Previously, USAFMCOM was headed by an Army colonel, and had significantly less clout than it does now. But changes that came at the direction of then Secretary of the Army John McHugh, have put more stars at USAFMCOM, and laid more responsibility at its doorstep.

Right now, Coburn said, USAFMCOM is undergoing a transformation that will enable it to provide the Army with full financial operations oversight; manage a range of fielded enterprise resource planning systems and ensure they "talk to each other"; move the Army toward sustainable auditability; and train the financial management units that go to war.

"It all comes back to let's get auditable, let's optimize financial management, and in order to do that, we'll put a two-star at that headquarters so they can go out and ensure this stuff is happening," Coburn said.

Part of the change to USAFMCOM involves growth in personnel. Coburn said he's now at about 70 percent of their projected end strength of 217 people, most of whom are civilians.

"As we hire the civilians, making sure we are getting the right people with the right skill sets" is important, he said.

One of the primary reasons for that increase in authority is that USAFMCOM will spearhead the Army's efforts to get its books in order, in ways that meet global standards of accounting, so that it can finally be audited in the same way any private sector company can be.

"Auditability brings a level of trust from Congress, and from the American people," Coburn said. "Right now there are horror stories that go out to the American people that with DOD, they don't know where the money is going. In Afghanistan, we had stories that said the Army has lost control of $10 billion dollars. It's not that we lost control of it. We knew where it was, we knew what it was spent on. We just couldn't do it to the fidelity that the auditors needed to have to prove that that's exactly where the funding went."

Once the Army becomes auditable, impartial third-party auditors will be able to move through Army accounting books and enterprise resource planning systems, or ERPs, recognize a standard way of accounting, and provide a stamp of approval on the Army's bookkeeping that will assure the Army's shareholders -- Congress and the taxpayer -- that their hard-earned tax dollars are being well spent.

"It's substantiating documentation," Coburn said, explaining that every transaction must be reconciled. "If you say you have equipment on the floor and you've issued it, you can show that it was on the floor, that you issued it, the people that you issued it to had the proper authority to take that equipment, and that they've accounted for it as it has gone forward. There is a lot to auditability."

That is, the Army's financial record keeping, from top to bottom, must be standardized and transparent so that when auditors come to visit, they can do a complete review of the Army's books and validate where the money is going.

"The things we have to do as an Army, before we can even get an auditor -- an independent public accounting firm -- to start an audit, is we have to be able to show our universe of transactions," Coburn said. "Every transaction the Army does, we have to be able to show that, and also show that it's been reconciled and it's complete. It's an incredible amount of work."

One tool USAFMCOM will use to prepare the Army to be audited is the General Fund Enterprise Business System. The GFEBS is an enterprise resource planning system, or ERP, that replaces more than 80 accounting and finance systems across the Army. An ERP is software used to organize data that affects Army financial reports.

"The most basic part of [GFEBS] is that it's the accounting system of record for the Army to have," said 1st Lt. Andrew Weston, who has a background in finance and who works now as the aide-de-camp for Coburn. "It integrates all kinds of 'enterprise-wide' management information. Everything from a tank to a Soldier's BAH. The Army's ERPs, particularly for financial accounting and budgetary accounting, will ultimately converge in GFEBS. What this does is it's a tool for decision makers, to see all kinds of data about the Army's business."

GFEBS isn't the only ERP the Army has. There are others, including the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-A), the Logistics Modernization Program (LMP), and soon the Integrated Personnel and Pay System -- Army (IPPS-A).

"All these systems have to interface with GFEBS," Coburn said. "That's one of the things we do within our System Support Operations, is making sure those interfaces are correct."

Older computerized financial systems the Army used, Coburn said, were not capable of doing what GFEBS can do now.

"They were very archaic," he said. "They couldn't do the reconciliations. They couldn't provide the substantiation. So as we have come on with ERPs, now we are starting to look at the people, the processes and the technology that the Army has, and optimize that toward auditability."

Getting every part of the Army on board with those ERPs is also critical. And that means refining Army business processes to make use of the ERPs, so that ever financial transaction in the Army is done the same way, and recorded the same way, inside a system that is accessible across the Army.

"One of the main functions that USAFMCOM is doing now is a thing called business process standardization, or BPS," Cobrun said.

Coburn said BPS involves making sure that every business process used by the Army is mapped out "to the most minute detail," so that across the Army, everybody is doing them the same way.

If every business process is being done the same way, he said, and everybody is using the same ERPs, and inputting all the required information, then auditors will be able to find what they are looking for wherever they go, and deliver to the Army a clean audit that shows the Army is spending taxpayer dollars exactly the way it says it is.

"This is something we can do," Coburn said. "With the people we have, with the proper training, with the processes that we have, with the standardization of the technology we brought on with the ERPs, this is attainable. We just have to do the things that set the Army up for success, so the auditors can come in and give us a clean opinion. And part of that is by optimizing financial management through our people processes and technology, and getting those processes standardized so when the auditors go out, they see the same picture across the Army. So this is definitely something that can be done, and we are committed to accomplishing it."