ASMC Visits the Defense Financial Management & Comptroller School: Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
Aided by good directions from Ms. Robin Cotton, the DFM&CS resident wizard who keeps track of all things administrative, I was soon headed through the gates at Maxwell, where I was met by Army Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Rick Diggs, DFM&CS deputy director. He whisked me through security and check-in and soon had me settled in the transient billets, a very modern and comfortable hotel facility.
The reason for this visit was the announcement some months earlier that the curriculum of the school, formerly known as the Department of Defense Professional Military Comptroller School (PMCS), had been completely renewed, streamlined, and reconstructed. The emphasis now is on expanding students' leadership and decision support skills and preparing them for operations in a deployed environment. To further emphasize the joint aspects of the school, the name also was changed. As part of this transformation, the school's main course now is called the Defense Financial Management Course (DFMC). As Air Force Colonel Dan Dunaway, the DFM&CS director, said to me when we met the next morning, "This is not your father's PMCS!"
LTC Diggs, a career Army financial manager and a graduate of the Army's 14-month master's program at Syracuse University, provided my in-briefing. We first discussed the recent evolution of the DFMC and reasons that had driven the change. Although the Air Force always supported the six-week course in terms of sending students, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps previously had not been well represented in this joint environment, in part because of their increased operational tempo.
As a result, the school's faculty, in consultation with senior financial management career program representatives from all the military services and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), reexamined the training requirement, the target audience, and the curriculum. After a detailed review, the course was shortened, redundancies were removed, and new material was added. As a result, the course now addresses both the strategic and the operational levels of Defense financial management. The DFMC target population is enlisted financial managers in grades E-8 and above, civilian financial managers in grades GS-12 and above, and military officers in grades O-4 and above.
A typical student class size is 45 students. The course I observed, however, was somewhat smaller because the school had been physically displaced during some building renovations, and all the new seminar and student facilities were not quite finished. LTC Diggs noted that the smaller class size was an attempt to reach a greater balance across the student population by assigning attendance targets to the various services and the DFAS.
The class in session had 28 students, which included 17 from the Air Force, 6 from the Army, 3 from the Navy, and 1 each from the National Security Agency and DFAS. The class was organized into three seminar groups. These seminar groups are important because each student gets to lead and work closely with those assigned to the seminar. The groups compete on a points scale for best seminar group.
Interestingly, there is a conscious attempt to build a paperless environment, so all student materials (except some of the leadership books) are online. Each student is issued a laptop to use during the course, with network connectivity available in each seminar room. During the exercise simulations, e-mail messages, very similar to the ones in the "real world," drive the action. LTC Diggs reported, "This course is challenging, the pace is fast, and we teach at a graduate level." This statement was confirmed emphatically during my later discussions with several of the students.
Like the student population, the faculty is jointly composed. While the director always is an Air Force colonel (O-6), the deputy billet (O-5) rotates between Army and Navy, with the incumbent dual-hatted as an instructor. The 12 authorized positions include an administrative billet, an information technologist, instructors from the Army, Navy, and Air Force (one of whom functions as an operations officer), and a pair of developmental positions--one held by a person from DFAS (a 2-year assignment) and one held by an Air Force civilian (typically a 30-month assignment). LTC Diggs emphasized that there are no permanent faculty members, which has the beneficial effect of ensuring that those who teach have been in touch recently with the operations in the field. "It keeps us all fresh and the instruction relevant," he said.
Challenging, Inclusive Course Design
The course is designed primarily to develop decision support skill sets to include critical thinking, analysis, advisory, strategic orientation, leadership, and conflict resolution. A secondary focus is to broaden awareness of the multifaceted financial management community. This is done with guest lecturers, interactive seminars and case studies, and facilitated exercises. The course is taught at the graduate level and is rigorous. It is organized into the following four major instructional areas: leadership, contingency operations, strategic environment and transformation, and financial management. The students are asked to participate actively, to formulate individual and group goals, and to complete homework and pass test requirements. Students are evaluated twice, using a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions related to leadership, financial management concepts, and critical thinking.
This instruction area is designed to enhance leadership and personal and interpersonal skills. Students actively participate in exercises and complete requirements relating to group dynamics, communication, team leading, and conflict resolution. Senior leaders present their perspectives on leadership and the financial management career field throughout the course. Each student is expected to reflect on his or her personal beliefs about leadership and then to develop fully a personal leadership approach. Students graduate with a documented personal definition of leadership and personal leadership approach, enhanced personal communication skills, and a better understanding of a dynamic leadership environment.
This instruction area familiarizes the students with the current contingency environment and provides a comptroller perspective of joint operations. Students are exposed to the tactical, operational, and strategic level of comptroller contingency operations, to include senior leaders' perspectives and expectations for deployed comptrollership. In addition, students explore the unique aspects of fiscal law during deployments and its effect on operations and home station contingency funding. Overall, students enhance their comprehension of what is expected in the contingency operations arena.
Strategic Environment and Transformation
This instruction area introduces the financial management professional to the strategic environment and current transformation efforts. Faculty, government, and industry guest speakers present current information on how the economy and politics affect the budget process and how to provide decision support in a dynamic environment. In addition, senior-level Department of Defense (DoD) speakers discuss financial management transformation, DoD partnerships, finance and accounting, contracting, and auditing. Throughout this area of instruction, faculty members challenge students to relate the changes to the strategic picture that have taken place in their particular jobs. A computer-based simulation model is used to enhance critical thinking and decision-support skills as students seek to comprehend how high-level decisions affect the way they conduct financial management and how they can provide decision support.
This instruction area improves students' overall DoD financial management knowledge and effectiveness. Faculty and guest speakers address the various types of DoD funding along with fiscal law implications for the financial manager. Students learn the purpose and effect of legislation (such as the Chief Financial Officers Act, the Government Performance and Results Act, and the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act) on performance measurement and financial operations. In addition, students increase their knowledge of the DoD resource allocation system (Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution) and the Defense Systems Acquisition process. The financial management framework provides the students with an understanding of the current challenges facing resource managers.
The DFM&CS also offers the Reserve Forces Comptroller Course, a tailored, two-week version of the DFMC that specifically addresses the requirements of Reserve and National Guard comptrollers. The school has developed a new decision support workshop for senior personnel. It will serve as another building block in the vision of creating the premier Defense financial management teaching institution.
A Day in the Life of ...
Following the in-briefing, I visited DFMC Class 06A. The first class was a two-hour lecture by Darrell Phillips of the International and Operations Law Division of the Air Force Judge Advocate General School. He did not concentrate on the usual fiscal law mantra (that is, purpose, time, and amount) but, rather, spoke on fiscal law as it applies to contingency contracts. Mr. Phillips' presentation was both complex and interesting and provided critical knowledge for any future deployed comptroller. The lunch hour offered a voluntary program called "Speakeasy," a series of sessions modeled on the Toastmasters program and designed for those wanting to improve their public speaking skills while attending the course.
That afternoon, I attended an in-depth presentation by Major John C. Ayers IV on living as a deployed comptroller. His descriptions of the combat zone; the precautions required for even routine journeys; meetings with local vendors; the firefights, mortars, and roadside bombs; and his personal photographs brought the Iraq war into clear but scary focus. His narrative of a rocket fired from 10 miles away, which penetrated his office, wounding several of his colleagues and killing a military officer and a female civilian employee, was unforgettable and certainly brought home the level of bravery and the sacrifices that are being made daily by our deployed forces.
After duty hours, I participated with one of the groups that was preparing for a "timed walk," as LTC Diggs called it. The idea is that each seminar group must predict the time that it will take its participants to walk three miles and then, without carrying any timepieces, to accomplish the feat. The group that gets closest to its predicted time earns seminar competition points. It takes practice to win, hence the networking. My seminar group moved out smartly, and I used the walk to chat about their reactions to the course.
The DFMC is demanding, and the pace is fast. Some students suggested that the course should be longer. Ron Devera of the DFAS-Columbus Internal Review Office reported, "This course gives us the big picture, the stuff we have to know. It improves leadership skills. This is essential because we do have many people who need this training." He also praised one of the books issued to DFMC students, Lincoln on Leadership, by Donald T. Phillips. All agreed that the course was time well spent, and we also discussed plans for future assignments.
Military and civilian personnel alike moved briskly together, and soon we were headed back to the base gym. The next afternoon, we did the seminar networking activity for real, and the group I walked with came in within two seconds of its predicted time. Impressive!
My overall impression of the DFM&CS is that of a vibrant and well-managed financial management teaching institution, with a curriculum that is very relevant to student needs and a supportive, quality faculty and staff. The class size is such that the director, his deputy, and the faculty are involved daily with students on a very personal basis. All involved are true professionals, both competent and caring.
If you get a chance to attend this school, grab it and work hard. And, by all means, participate in the Speakeasy program--it will pay dividends throughout your career. Quotas are centrally managed by each service. For more information, visit the school's Web site at www.au.af.mil/au/cpd or call the school at (334) 953-6655.
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|Title Annotation:||ASMC Visits|
|Author:||Raines, John T.|
|Publication:||Armed Forces Comptroller|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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