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Modernizing the Coast Guard Financial Community.

The smallest of the five U.S. military branches and the sole Service that falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Coast Guard consists of 36,000 active duty members and more than 7,000 reserve members. It manages an annual operating budget of more than $10 billion to fund its eleven diverse and distinct missions across the globe.

Providing accountability of this budget is a small contingent of active duty officers coded as FIN-10s, the officer competency code for finance. This specialty group numbers approximately 200 officers who fill critical budget execution and audit functions for the enterprise. Due to the focus on audit readiness and the challenging budget environment they have faced over the past decade, the FIN-10 community has transformed into a highly valued specialty in the Coast Guard.

The selection process for FIN-10s is unique compared to their Department of Defense (DoD) partners. Instead of having officers remain in their finance specialty throughout their careers starting at commissioning, FIN-10s are handpicked by senior leadership during annual panels that accept the most deserving of junior officer applicants at the 0-3 level. These selectees are chosen based on a plethora of qualities, notably performance in demanding operational assignments, leadership experience, undergraduate performance, and standardized graduate school application test scores. While academic prowess in their undergraduate experience does contribute to their viability, primary consideration is given to career performance, ratings, and potential as officers and leaders. Also considered is their likelihood to be quick learners who can think unconventionally. Upon acceptance, these members attend a graduate school program to earn a masters degree in business administration, accounting, finance, or a combination of these through a dual-degree curriculum. Then they incur a four-year obligation of service tour at headquarters or a district to both master the intricacies of Coast Guard financial practices and apply their newly learned knowledge toward budget execution, audit remediation, internal controls, funds management, and program reviews.

The financial management community benefits from acquiring motivated officers who have cultivated a strong career skill set in their respective operational specialty. These specialties range from operations afloat (cutters) and aviation (both fixed wing and rotary), to intelligence and marine safety, which result in a diverse pool of officers from the Service's nine regional districts. Preference for program selection is given to those officers with an established operational career path so they may return to their operational specialty following their first finance tour. Completing multiple tours in an operational specialty prior to becoming a FIN-10 helps to hone the officers' skills and build a successful reputation in their respective communities. It also gives them the requisite experience to enter the financial program with a solid understanding of the workings of their Service and its finances at the individual unit level.

Upon entering the FIN-10 community, officers have the option to either remain in finance for the rest of their careers (known as "pure-FIN-10"), or return to their operational specialties, alternating between operational and finance tours (known as "dual-track"). Officers are encouraged to pursue the dual-track path to remain competitive for promotion to the senior ranks. Those officers will complete command assignments in their operational specialties and will be highly competitive to serve in one of the limited number of 0-6 FIN-10 positions within the Coast Guard.

Those officers who choose the pure FIN-10 career track acquire significant financial experience in their first tour and are required to certify as a Certified Defense Financial Manager, Certified Government Financial Manager, and/or Certified Public Accountant to distinguish themselves within their communities and build their expertise. They quickly become established members of the finance community and, while not as diverse as the dual-track career officers, still retain significant career options. They further pave the way for follow-on careers in federal, state or municipal government, or in financial and business positions within the private sector.

Pure FIN-10s are highly valued in the Service today and external factors have certainly contributed to the success of the program. Senior leaders at both DHS and the Coast Guard have stressed the importance of the financial audit and internal controls, which has significantly increased the value of FIN-10 officers. The challenging budget environment they face has resulted in difficult resource decisions being orchestrated by FIN-10s that significantly impact the Service. FIN-10s are often engaged in senior leadership meetings and serve as trusted advisors to flag officers and Senior Executive Service leaders. In the past, pure-FIN-10 officers were rarely successful in being promoted to the senior levels of the Coast Guard. Today, given the complexity of our budget environment and the focus on the audit, the FIN-10 community is well-known and pure-FIN-10s are seeing high success with promotions to the 0-5 level.

The FIN-10 program explores innovative methods to market the program and attract talented officers to the FIN-10 community. The program has teamed with the Management Department at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to share ideas and promote the FIN-10 community to the future leaders of the Service. Applications for this program are at an all-time high due to high visibility of the key positions within the Coast Guard, the attractiveness of attending a top-tier MBA program, and in the overall desirability of an MBA as an officer/manager, both in the military and beyond in the private sector.

Though unconventional in the selection process and its career progression, the Coast Guard has a strong financial management program with an engaged community of officers who perform crucial duties and make key decisions that will directly shape their seagoing service for years to come.

CDR Shad Thomas, MBA, CGFM

CDR Thomas serves as the Financial Management Program Manager at Coast Guard Headquarters. He is a 1998 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University. He is a Cutterman with over six years afloat and served as Commanding Officer of the cutters POINT BRIDGE, HALIBUT, TYBEE, and KISKA. He is a Certified GovernI ment Financial Manager and is a past Chapter President of ASMC Aloha Chapter.

LCDR Kalen Kenny

LCDR Kenny recently reported as the Assistant Financial Management Program Manager at Coast Guard Headqudrters. He is a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and holds an MS in accounting from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. A career Cutterman prior to his recent entrance into the financial management community, he has served eight years afloat in addition to three years as a search and rescue controller prior to entering graduate school.
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Author:A.Thomas, Shad; Kenny, Kalen M.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:1083
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