FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Financial managers and business cycle owners throughout the Defense Logistics Agency are tracking audit notice of findings and recommendations and associated corrective action plans through a tool designed to consolidate data across the Defense Department.
Created by DOD’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer to improve department-wide monitoring and generate real-time, sharable information that can be used to align resources toward priorities, the NFR database shows progress toward completing milestones for each CAP and lets viewers see plans for resolving issues at other agencies.
“As the financial statement audit process has matured, having actionable information has become a force multiplier,” DLA Finance Deputy Director Jeff Zottola said. “All of us stand-alone entities going through this audit not only have to understand and plan remediation efforts for our own material weaknesses and critical path NFRs, but also have to understand how they relate to the overall department’s remediation efforts.”
Problems that affect one organization often affect others, added Joe Ryder, who leads DLA Finance’s Audit Work Plan Management Team.
“We work a lot with the Defense Finance Accounting Service, for example, so problems they face affect us and vice versa. In fact, DFAS is critical to some of DLA’s audit findings, so by putting the data into DOD software that we can all view, we can know how those problems are being resolved,” he said.
That can then drive other agencies’ corrective plans and result in department-wide progress, he continued. The database, which is part of a digital analytics platform called Advana that DOD developed in 2019 to track everything from finance to readiness, is also being used to detect trends in areas like material weaknesses.
NFRs are loaded into the database by DOD Inspector General staff, upon which DLA has 60 days to load CAPS.
“That sounds like a lot of time but it’s not,” Ryder said. “Not all findings are created equal. As the audit becomes more mature, the findings get more complex.”
CAPs also go through an extensive approval process that begins with plan creation by the enterprise business cycle owner and includes review by the DLA Audit Task Force to determine how or if the plan impacts other business areas. DLA Acquisition, for example, owns numerous NFRs related to procurements within the Procure to Pay cycle. But since DLA Finance has a heavy role in the pay portion, corrective actions often need coordinated between both directorates to ensure there are no negative effects, said Mindy Tisone, a DLA Acquisition procurement analyst.
Though only Ryder and his team can load CAPS into the database with milestones and corresponding dates, employees like Tisone update progress in the system.
“Process owners don’t have edit authority to change milestone dates, but decentralizing management of milestone progress to where the work is actually being accomplished helps those teams monitor where they are in the process and see which actions need to be taken next,” Ryder added.
DLA used internal software to track NFRs and CAPS before it began using the DOD database two years ago. The change triggered a subsequent shift in how directorates such as DLA Acquisition monitors remediation. Since editing access is limited to prevent things like date changes, Tisone had to create a means for sharing information in the database with process owners and action officers.
“I also needed to create a way for them to communicate to me when they completed actions or milestones so I could update progress within the database,” she said, adding that the result was a SharePoint tool that standardized how DLA Acquisition employees communicate efforts.
Though learning the data architecture of DOD’s NFR tracking tool was a challenge, Tisone has mastered it enough to establish automated reports that keep managers up-to-date on database metrics.
“The key was to provide visibility to the rest of the team despite database limits so they could stay on track of progress we’re obligated to make toward a clean audit,” she continued.
DOD is developing other NFR database capabilities such as dashboards that show the department’s roadmap toward improving things like major material weaknesses.
“With everybody’s data in the system mapped to a particular problem area like inventory tracking or beginning balance problems, they can map all the corrective actions toward solving it. That will show us, at the department level, how soon we’re going to solve a collective problem,” Ryder said, adding that if there’s one organization that’s driving resolution out farther than desired, deeper discussions can be had between agencies to tackle the root issues.
Similar deep dives can be held within DLA, too. DLA Finance’s policy team, for example, recently requested the ATF provide a rundown of all CAP milestones involving policy reviews and updates of job aids such as standard operating procedures and instruction manuals. Anticipating a push this year to finalize such documents, the policy team wanted to know how their workload would be impacted.
“If everybody said, ‘Oh, we’re going to have our job aids or new SOPS or new DLA Instructions approved at the end of the calendar year in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the team needs to know that. And while offices would have coordinated all of that up front, it would have come in piecemeal,” Ryder said.
Almost all DLA directorates have CAPS loaded into the database though some have far fewer than others. The agency currently has 418 NFRs and 328 CAPs, with some CAPs supporting multiple NFRs.