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How will expeditionary wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan change the people and processes of defense financial management?

The financial management community experienced a period of uncertainty over the last few years, starting with mixed reviews concerning the performance of financial managers in Operation Desert Storm and continuing through years of pressure to centralize operations, transition to contractors, and generally reduce military structure.

The ongoing expeditionary wars and expected increase in military forward presence in support of the War on Terrorism have already had a profound effect on the people and processes of defense financial management. Current United States military efforts are defined by the dynamic area of operations they encompass and the complexity of financial issues being faced. Initial analysis of the effects of these efforts is best summarized as a resurgence of prominence for the financial management community.

The backbone of the resource management community, as with most organizations, is the people. Financial managers are abundant across the Middle East, playing a large role in operations from accounting for captured currency to paying Iraqi nationals for information. Deployed personnel are also supported by additional resource management personnel those in garrison headquarters, major command headquarters, or Service headquarters in the Pentagon.

Together, these two faces of financial management personnel are being changed for the better in a number of ways. First, the next generation of civilian leadership is gaining needed experience; second, military resource management personnel gained a testimonial for their mission and existence; and third, dangerous deployments instilled a deep understanding that basic military skills should not be ignored.

The financial management community operates in the shadow of an experience exodus. For years there's been discussion that the community faces a massive retirement crisis in the civilian ranks. Who will fill the void of experience when such a seasoned group of professionals leave government service? Support of current military operations and the accompanying extreme operations tempo are effectively training the next generation of civilian leader. Civilian employees are deployed throughout the area of conflict, establishing an operational background that would make their predecessors proud. Additionally, thousands of managers performing their support from noncombatant locations are building a library of specialized experience that they can draw on for the rest of their careers.

The second change to financial management personnel is that military personnel gained a testimonial. Military personnel gained confidence and pride knowing their expertise is mission critical and their career path is healthy. Financial management requires personnel in military uniform!

This requirement has not always been considered valid, depending on the audience. However, the operational employment of military financial management personnel in the War on Terrorism and the continued need for these personnel provides a testimonial that will dissipate future talk of reductions. Finance battalions and comptroller squadrons are spread across the theater of operations, making payments in multiple currencies and accounting for millions of dollars.

Comptrollers and budget technicians are equally visible throughout the region, providing traditional mission support as well as ground-breaking funding support in areas of intelligence source payments, force protection information payments, de-minimus construction payments and multinational support.

Military financial management personnel earned a bushel of kudos for their accomplishments. These accomplishments will douse all discussion of further transition to civilians or contractors.

Third, military financial managers will no longer take their military basic skills training for granted. Tactical or military aspects of training have long taken a back seat to the technical training. Soldiers argued that training time was better spent learning their daily mission support functions, relegating marksmanship, combat lifesaving, and NBC training to second priority. The nature of expeditionary wars and the lack of a front line of battle highlight the ever-present danger faced by support personnel. Finance soldiers and other support personnel died in combat, and this fact will significantly alter the perception by financial management personnel that they will not be in harm's way.

Significant changes in process or policy are difficult to attain when dealing with a bureaucracy the size of the United States government. However, financial management processes will also be affected by the execution of expeditionary wars because we possess the impetus for change, a catastrophic event, war. Three process changes will most certainly be entertained in the near future: refocus efforts to develop depth of knowledge in currency operations, develop and document procedures to support special operations personnel facing unique funding challenges, and earlier identification of career comptrollers in the U.S. Army.

The first process that must be reviewed is the preparation of our personnel for the use of currency in support of military operations. The overwhelming majority of effort and training in the field of disbursing has migrated to electronic means of payment at the expense of manual payment knowledge.

This problem was initially identified in the Kosovo and Bosnia theaters of operation. While electronic payment is effective, efficient, and essential in everyday operations in the United States, it does not prepare our personnel for what they will face when operating in areas where hard currency is required to do business. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the next crisis location cannot operate using electronic funds transfers. To set our personnel up for success, the change that needs to happen is a robust and realistic training system for disbursing and accounting for cash operations.

Second, resource management leadership needs to conduct an in-depth review of statutes and limitations that handcuff special operations personnel facing unique funding challenges when working in dangerous and desolate areas. Special operators consistently face setbacks due to the stringent controls placed on their operational funds. While the administrative limitations serve an important internal control function when operating under normal circumstances, the proper flexibility is not built into the system to allow our military every advantage in times of contingency.

Finally, the dynamic nature of expeditionary war and the geographic dispersion it requires will lead to a new system of identifying comptroller personnel in the Army. Current personnel procedures do not provide for Army offices to establish themselves as career comptrollers prior to the eight- to ten-year mark of their service.

This policy works well in the normal routine of Army comptroller operations since the majority of peace-time garrison comptroller positions requires more senior officers to handle a wide range of resource management functions. However, the high demand for contingency comptrollers will force younger officers from various branches to execute a limited range of funding activities in support of combat operations. The early exposure to comptroller procedures and practices will result in many of these combat comptrollers identifying themselves as comptrollers earlier in their career; providing an increased level of expertise throughout the comptroller branch.

Expeditionary wars will have significant effects throughout the resource management community. The greatest examples of the effects exist in the resource management workforce and potential shifts in processes. In the area of personnel there are three major effects: a new stable of civilian leaders are gaining invaluable experience, the military resource management professionals are earning a superior testimonial to their career path, and all military resource managers will respect their military skills training.

The process shifts include an increased emphasis on currency operations, a full review of funding statutes and policies limiting the flexibility and effectiveness of special operations personnel, and earlier identification of comptroller careerists in the Army. The defense resource management establishment is strengthened by its ability to flex to meet evolving missions. Flexing and changing with the evolution of expeditionary wars is an outstanding example of this strength.

Colonel Francis A. Machino is a U.S. Army finance officer currently serving as J8 for the Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He split his 22 years of service equally between finance and comptroller assignments, highlighted by command of the 106th Finance Battalion and joint duty as Chief of the Operations and Maintenance Branch for the United States Special Operations Command. COL Machina is a graduate of the Army Comptrollership Program at Syracuse University. He is also a CDFM and a former president of the Tampa Bay Chapter of ASMC.
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Title Annotation:Essay Winner--First Place
Author:Machina, Francis A.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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