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Who Wants to be a Comptroller?

This is not a question many non-financial management (FM) officers are prepared to answer; however, an email asking for Air Force Financial Management Leadership Program (FMLP) applicants is awaiting all non-FM officers every fall. This program offers the chance to become a comptroller squadron commander after completing a two year major command (MAJCOM) headquarters assignment in FM.

Most FM officers slowly build their FM resumes over ten years before becoming a comptroller, but individuals accepted into the FMLP are given just two years. Successful completion of the first two years as an analyst on a MAJCOM staff will lead to command of a comptroller squadron in the final two years of the program. While the task may seem daunting, officers apply for a multitude of reasons. For many, squadron command in their own Air Force Specialty Code is elusive, especially within acquisitions and engineering career fields. The lure of proudly wearing the command badge on their uniform draws them in. Some officers apply to gain experience in FM so they may return to their career fields with a greater breadth of experience. In the end, successful FMLP officers will become expert comptrollers and squadron commanders, benefiting themselves and the Air Force in the process.

Starting the Learning Process

After the application, interview, and selection process, the carefully chosen officers are excited to enter a new career field and start working toward the ultimate goal of comptroller squadron command. The new group of FM officers, usually two or three per year, in-process at their two-year MAJCOM staff assignments. The first phase of the program gives each officer two years to learn as much as possible about this new career field. As the only non-FM personnel in the MAJCOM FM directorate, they are the only ones who do not know the FM systems or such terms as, "ABIDES," "CRIS," "DEAMS," "ExPlan," "PEC," "EEIC," and the list goes on. After a month or two, without realizing the change, they are able to understand the FM terminology and even run a program without close supervision. Numerous hours are spent in budget, military pay, travel pay, quality assurance, etc. to understand the importance of each section. During this process, it is important to consider how each of these areas will be applicable to comptrollership. How will these processes be important to the comptroller?

Warming Up to Command

Some FMLP officers are given the opportunity to work within a squadron or even as a deputy comptroller during their two-year initiation to finance. This opportunity gives unique insight into the daily activities of the comptroller and provides perspective on what to expect when they reach the hot seat. As officers from other career fields, FMLP officers are not typically aware of the full mission of the comptroller squadron. The time spent within the squadron prior to taking command opens eyes to the full realm of comptroller squadron duties. Once again, new terms such as Management Internal Control Toolset, wing staff agencies (WSA) administrative control (ADCON), and non-approprlated funds are introduced. FMLP officers quickly learn the comptroller must balance the role of commander and installation chief financial officer. At this point, an FMLP officer is slowly becoming a finance officer. Once the internship phase is complete, the officer will be the comptroller and will be expected to know all things finance. This is the main event.

In the Hot Seat

After two years of training, mentorship, advice, and planning, the change of command ceremony is complete and the FMLP officer is now the comptroller. As the chief financial officer to the installation commander, from day one he or she is now the go-to person for everything FM. The training wheels are ripped off and there is no more time to plan or organize. Neither the installation commander, nor any other senior leader care or even realize the comptroller is not a "real-FMer." Within the first few days on the job, there may be a presidential visit to the base and the surrounding area, personnel actions, office admin/logistical issues, and a myriad of funding requests and questions. The comptroller, FMer or not, is looked to as the expert for all things financial, funding special security and logistical support, and WSA ADCON. The base and community are counting on the comptroller to ensure the proper decision analysis and research is completed swiftly. While nothing can prepare a commander for a presidential visit early in command, quickly realizing their ability to rely on a great group of FM professionals will ensure proper, thorough, and successful mission accomplishments. The FM professionals within the squadron (to include military, civilian and contractors) make the squadron successful. Even though the FMLP officer may not be the financial expert in the room, the squadron Airmen are. Commanders, those in the FMLP especially, rely on Airmen, their skills, and their knowledge, for the success of the unit.

Credibility

It is important to be able to "walk-the-walk" with those in the unit. For example, when the DoD FM Certification (DFMC) initially rolled out, there was great resistance among many to complete it, perhaps thinking it would go away. As someone new to FM, an FMLP officer can use this as an opportunity to learn the material as designed and also demonstrate that it is possible to navigate the Learning Management System and achieve the certification. Showing their willingness to complete a certification they may not need as they transition back to their career field can be a powerful motivator for other unit members. The same applies to the test-based Certified Defense Financial Manager-Acquisition (CDFM-A) credential--if the new guy or gal can self-study, learn the material, and pass the tests, then surely all of the more seasoned FMers can do the same. Walking in the door to the squadron with a CDFM-A and DFMC Level 3 can be of great importance to the newly appointed FMLP comptroller squadron commander. These certifications show the commander's willingness and ability to lead from the front, even when it is not their primary career field.

Leadership Opportunities

Even when there is a well-defined leadership role, such as commander, there are still many other opportunities available to grow in FM, especially from the perspective of someone from a different career field. There was a vacancy for the President of the Sequoyah Chapter of ASMC during the second year of Lt Col Brogan's tour at Tinker AFB, and he was asked to fill it. He had attended Chapter meetings and events when able, but that was a lot different from running a 150 member chapter. A major difference in leading a chapter, vice leading a squadron, is that ASMC is voluntary and all of the chapter officers are volunteers. As a result, ASMC provided opportunities to help others develop their leadership skills outside of the office, as well as bring in a bevy of high profile speakers to the base. A core team of ASMC Chapter members will carry the water throughout the year, offering professional development, networking, and community service to the installation and community. As a non-FMer, Lt Col Brogan relished the opportunity to help shape the agenda and rotation of senior leaders that came to the luncheons and mini-Professional Development Institute, as well as being able to showcase the base and what the Chapter's successes and challenges were. The different perspectives of those within and outside of FM provided unique development insights and opportunities for Chapter members. These leadership opportunities outside the title of commander provide a more rounded leadership perspective for the non-FM comptroller.

Networking

The FM community is very small and tight-knit compared to many other career fields in the Air Force. The assignment officers at the Air Force Personnel Center actually answer their phones and return emails. The senior leaders in the career field do a good job setting up a non-FMer to succeed by providing access and mentoring. Despite just two years of training, and a few days with other inbound comptrollers before the command tour begins, an FMLP officer will realize they are at a distinct disadvantage from the core-FMers who know each other and the career field. As a non-FMer this provides both a challenge and an opportunity. Overwhelmingly, peers are willing to devote numerous hours explaining the most mundane FM details as well as routine jargon. Most of this simply cannot be covered in a two year training program, and is lost in a sea of new terminology. Luckily members of the unit will have a well-defined network and the continuity to fill the knowledge gaps for the new comptroller.

Everyone Does it Differently

The higher headquarters and schoolhouse way of doing business never 100% reflects what really happens in the field. The knowledge baseline set during the two years of MAJCOM-level training will quickly be replaced by squadron execution reality. MAJCOM and squadron cultures play a huge role in the composition of the team and their mindset, as well as the types of missions they are supporting. One of the first steps to ensure the success of an FMLP officer once they take command is to realize they are no longer at a MAJCOM and must align with the squadron team. If the non-FMer can eliminate all bias and learn how the team currently operates, they will understand they do not need to change everything on day one. Although some methods will seem unorthodox, the commander must quickly understand he or she is not the smartest person in the room, especially as a non-FMer. Using a consensus approach with the squadron will empower branch chiefs, sections chiefs, and unit members to make a difference, embrace the positive impact of change, and demand excellence.

Perceptions of FM

For non-FMers, most interactions with the FM community come as a customer or an interested stakeholder. Most of the FM related questions from these officers are not positive in nature. Why does it take so long to get a voucher paid? Why are the customer service hours so limited? Why does it take multiple attempts to get a voucher paid accurately? Why does the Defense Travel System have so many issues? Why is the Planning, Programing, Budgeting, and Execution process so complicated? It is safe to say that even individuals with over 30 years of FM experience might not have a good answer for these questions. As a non-FMer, it is good to understand customer perceptions and concerns. Some customer concerns are best addressed through education and expectation management; others remain great life and career field mysteries. The FMLP officer has always looked at the FM community through the lens of a customer. This helps a non-FMer lead a unit whose primary mission is to provide customer service and decision support because they better understand the customer's point of view.

Using Positive Relationships to Influence Change

Sitting down personally with all unit commanders and directors across the installation may seem like a daunting task, but it will initiate an ongoing dialogue of "what can the comptroller squadron do for you," as well as "what can you (the mission partner) do for yourself." Peer-to-peer relationships offer the ability to understand the concerns of other commanders and effect change when warranted. When asked why a unit does something a particular way, most leaders would not accept the explanation "because this is how we have always done things." Coming from outside the FM community, an FMLP officer may have an advantage in building relationships that lead to understanding unit requirements and recommending new alternatives for change that may improve mission accomplishment. If there are unintended consequences or several alternatives have been tried unsuccessfully in the past, then perhaps attacking the issue from another angle would work. The opportunity to challenge the way things have always been done comes from the ability to build relationships across commands, career fields, and peer groups. Being an outsider to the FM career field can help build relationships across the base and get buy-in from the other organizations because of the unique perspective of the non-FMer.

End of Days

It will not take long for most individuals on base to forget the comptroller is not a "true" FM officer, if they ever cared in the first place. Customers and stakeholders do not care how the sausage is made, just that they get paid timely and accurately, and are informed and able to communicate their concerns when needed during the process. As the weeks draw closer to the final days as a comptroller, many will ask where the FMLP officer is headed and what his or her new job will be. It will be surprising to some that their comptroller was not even a FM officer to begin with. One of the best end of tour compliments will be, "I had no idea you were not finance." A statement such as this is truly a testament to the FMLP program. Especially to all of those who put in the time to train, mentor, advise, and, quite frankly, put up with an outsider who had a lot of questions and some strange Ideas on how to get things done.

After Thoughts

A few months removed from the FMLP program, the officer can look back at this special opportunity to grow as a leader and learn from the professionalism and competence of the FM career field. Whether opting to transition to the FM career field or returning to their own career field, FMLP officers were given the opportunity to take a peek under the hood of the FM machine. This will forever change their perspective on the FM community and comptrollers. As graduated comptroller squadron commanders, all FMLP officers will say "I'm proud to say I was one."

Lt Col Steve Brogan, CDFM-A, DFMC3

Lt Col Steve Brogan, CDFM-A, DFMC3 is Materiel Leader, Combat Systems Branch, Space Superiority Systems Directorate, Los Angeles AFB, CA. He previously was the Commander of the 72d Comptroller Squadron, Tinker AFB, OK and was President of the Sequoyah Chapter of the ASMC.

Maj Ken Peters, DFMC2

Maj Ken Peters, DFMC2, is the Deputy Comptroller, 21st Comptroller Squadron, Peterson AFB CO. He served previously as a Space Sensor Integration program manager at the National Geospatial-lntelligence Agency. He is in the first phase of the Financial Management Leadership Program at Air Force Space Command.
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Author:Brogan, Steve; Peters, Ken
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:2379
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