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Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP).

Of all of the Professional Development Institute workshops that I attended this year, the CERP workshop was the most relevant, informational, and interesting to me as an upcoming comptroller in today's Army. Additionally, through this venue, I have the honor to share with the senior financial managers of our Armed Forces a succinct overview of the session. Throughout the session, I often found myself so engulfed in the presentation and material that I almost forgot to scribe notes to aid in information recollection.

The CERP workshop was presented by Army Colonel Michael Toner, Assistant Chief of Staff, Resource Management (ACofS, RM) for V Corps, which is headquartered in Germany but deployed to Iraq. COL Toner deployed with V Corps to Iraq and has spent a considerable amount of time in that theater of operations. He developed the CERP out of necessity, given the on-going financial management mission and operational tempo. He needed a quick and reliable system that enabled him to provide humanitarian aid rapidly to the Iraqi people without committing Anti-Deficiency Act violations. He created CERP, and with 360-degree assistance, it evolved into one of the most successful programs used in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

Background/Genesis

CERP provides the decentralized execution of funds to maneuver commanders and helps them avoid bureaucratic procedures while responding to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility (AORs). In essence, CERP gives the ground commander a reloadable checkbook and the authority to determine how the funds will be spent. Commanders were authorized to make a wide variety of purchases related but not limited to health care, education, agricultural, telecommunications, and food distribution items.

Likewise, there were items that were prohibited for purchase with CERP funds. Among others, these included items such as weapons, ammunition, support to private business, or anything that directly benefited coalition forces.

This program has produced outstanding benefits. First, it immediately affected Iraqis where they lived and worked. Second, it proved that Americans cared and demonstrated that we truly wanted to assist in the reconstruction of Iraqi communities across religions, tribes, and regions.

Third, Iraqis were able to see actual results, immediately and first-hand. Schools were rebuilt, medical facilities were constructed, and social programs were implemented. Additionally, water and sewer facilities were reconstructed. Fourth, this program helped the Iraqis return to normalcy and gave them hope for their future.

The list goes on and on.

CERP was chosen as the Commander's Best Program. As COL Toner remarked, "This program is better than bullets." As of April 10, 2004, CERP had funded over 21,400 projects, with the majority being in support of educational improvement and restoration. To say the least, the program has had low cost to America and great benefit to Iraq.

As a matter of fact, CERP originated when U.S. Forces seized $700 million in cash from the former Iraqi regime. The money was found in a palace wall. It was the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) intent to somehow return the funds to the Iraqi people. What a great idea: Use Iraqi seized funds to help rebuild and provide humanitarian relief to the citizens of Iraq.

Of the $700 million, it was proposed that Iraq and Afghanistan receive CERP dollars amounting to $140 million and $40 million, respectively. This was a great opportunity to show positive results in the GWOT and, ultimately, it lessened the burden on the U.S. taxpayer.

Implementation

The CPA quickly approved the CERP proposal, but implementing the disbursement of CERP funds was easier said than done. Implementation raised many questions that lingered like a storm cloud. COL Toner created the program based on Federal Acquisition Regulation guidelines. Single-purchase limits were set at $2,500, while contracting officers and/or field ordering officers coordinated bulk and larger-quantity purchases greater than $2,500.

Pay agents from finance units were rapidly deployed to provide training and assistance. These teams assisted in the security and validation of authenticity for the confiscated funds, as well as the cash collection process, which enabled the Finance Command to establish the accounting system for the seized funds. This cash collection allowed the Department of Defense (and Army) to push funding authority to the maneuver commander through the Program Budget Accounting System, using authorization documents.

Evolution

The program evolved over time. Single-purchase limits for brigades and divisions respectively were increased to $50,000 and $100,000 for routine items, and $200,000 and $500,000, respectively, for bulk purchases. The Resource Management (RM) community issued Fragmentary Orders (FRAGOs) to keep the forces current on RM guidance and adjustments.

Furthermore, in order to act on a FRAGO, the executing unit physically had to show a copy of the FRAGO. This policy helped control information and ensured that the most recent RM information was actually getting to the lowest level.

Brigade and division commanders were held accountable by having to personally appoint pay agents. Classes, updates, and briefings were given to newly arrived U.S. RM personnel and coalition partners. Finally, CERP authority and funds were extended to coalition forces to support urgent humanitarian needs in their respective AORs.

Support the Commander

COL Toner adapted, overcame, and succeeded in his position as V Corps' ACofS, RM. His staff evolved from only five Army soldiers and civilians to over 20 joint service personnel and civilians. He instilled in each of them an RM mission to "Find a Way to Support Commanders." He counseled, "Don't tell commanders there's an obstacle in the road, or we can't fund this project because.... Find a way to support commanders. Go over the rock, around the rock, under the rock, or through the rock. Don't constrain commanders; present solutions to them. We must support commanders!"

Conclusion

CERP is a highly valuable program that supports the Iraqi people and U.S. and coalition ground commanders. It is still one of the most admired programs implanted to date in the GWOT. This program is a dynamic by-product of what we as RM leaders can achieve when we unite in finding ways to support the commander. COL Toner is proving that the comptroller is an invaluable and integral part of the combatant commander's staff.

We who follow must continue to carry the torch of being a successful combat multiplier by providing accurate and immediate solutions to commanders throughout the Army. Soon, as in corporate America, where the chief financial officer is the nucleus of the staff, military comptrollers will be as important to commanders as our operator counterparts.

Colonel Michael Toner

Assistant Chief of Staff, Resource Management, V Corps

United States Army

Major Stephen E. Kent is a 2000 graduate of the Army Comptrollership Program and has recently served as the budget officer for the CSA's Special Access Programs. He is currently in a Training With Industry assignment at General Electric in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a former vice president of the Alamo City Chapter of ASMC.
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Title Annotation:Workshop Reports
Author:Kent, Stephen E.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:1151
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