Air Force at risk of missing financial audit deadline

Thursday - 9/8/2011, 7:47pm EDT

By Peter Buxbaum
Special to Federal News Radio

The Air Force may not meet the 2017 deadline to have a clean financial audit.

Air Force comptroller Jamie Morin told House lawmakers Thursday the state of information technologies plays into service readiness.

"The Navy started from a fundamentally sound accounting system fielded a decade ago," he said. "The Air Force is starting with a bookkeeping system that was fielded in early 1970s."

Morin said the Air Force has made "real progress," but "the 2017 deadline will be challenging for the Air Force. We do see moderate risk but with a high level of leadership commitment we feel we are on track to make the deadline. IT systems modernization is an inescapable part of the Air Force effort."

Congress put the Defense Department on notice in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 when it required the Pentagon to validate its financial statements as ready for audit not later than Sept. 30, 2017.

The Air Force's challenges are limited to IT either.

"We have to do a lot of additional training hand holding to get the workforce up and running," said Morin. "We have a change management process that starts months before turning the system on."

Other Defense services told the House Armed Services Committee's Panel on Defense Financial Management and Auditability Reform they are on track to meet the deadline, or already have a clean audit opinion.

The Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, already has earned clean audit opinion by independent examiners. The Marine Corps is currently undergoing an audit of its statement of budgetary resources.

Wesley Miller, director of resource management at the Army Corps of Engineers, said a "financial management system was a major factor in our audit success."

The system "was developed to encompass travel, training, timekeeping, acquisition, and asset accountability and it was integrated with our project and asset accountability systems with many internal controls forcing 100 percent compliance," he said.

Offices from the departments of the Army and Navy expressed confidence that they will meet the 2017 deadline.

Army comptroller Mary Sally Matiella said the service currently is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation and testing of management controls.

"We recently received an unqualified opinion from an independent auditor confirming our ability to account for $230 billion in appropriations," she said.

With annual examinations by outside accounting forms scheduled annually between 2011 and 2014, Matiella projected that the Army's general funds budgetary resources statements will be audit ready by 2015 and that all financial statements will be similarly positioned in 2017.

The Navy also is taking a piecemeal approach toward 2017, said comptroller Gladys Commons.

The service already has successfully completed audits for its statements of budgetary resources and its inventory high-value military equipment. The next step will be to audit aircraft and ordnance inventories.

"We believe that outcome will be positive as well," said Commons.

At each of the services, performance plans for senior leaders and executives will include goals toward achieving financial auditability beginning in 2012.

All of this requires a culture shift, Miller said.

"You need to hire competent people and those people need to expect to be checked," he said. "People will do their best when they expect to be checked."

Peter Buxbaum is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.

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