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Pentagon Financial Managers Embrace Data Tools Amid Austerity

Survey finds pessimism on information technology acquisition and workforce training.

Rising responsibilities and declining budgets are forcing Defense Department financial managers to better incorporate the tools of data analytics in the proverbial quest to do more with less, a survey released on Wednesday showed.

Nearly 67 percent of all leaders interviewed in person for the survey said reliance on analytics is significant, according to the 12th survey of some 1,000 mostly civilian leaders and financial managers by the American Society of Military Comptrollers and Grant Thornton LLP.

The embrace of data may be making a virtue of a necessity. Citing “new budgetary realities, from sequesters and furloughs to shutdown,….deficit reduction has become a higher priority for policymakers in Washington,” the summary noted. “The effect of declining resources on the DoD financial management workforce has been significant. Morale has fallen due to several factors including an unsustainably high workload, job security concerns, weak pay raises and bonuses and the imposition of additional certification requirements,” the study said, warning of heavy turnover and “a significant gap in institutional knowledge and expertise.”

At the same time, cash-strapped financial managers are under steady pressure to achieve the audit readiness demanded by Congress, with an interim deadline next month and a final deadline for September 2017, the report noted. “More than 82 percent of online respondents believe the magnitude of challenges facing the [financial management] community has increased considerably when compared to this time in 2013.”

Information technology acquisition and contractor support continue as bugaboos. “While in theory investment of IT modernization sounds like a good idea, in practice and application the results have fallen short of expectations,” the summary said. When were asked how satisfied they are with the current rate of IT system modernization, 53 percent of the leaders surveyed in person and  60 percent of those surveyed online were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

“Dissatisfaction with IT is a consistent story,” survey director Tracy Greene told Government Executive. “There are still legacy systems that don’t interface with Enterprise Resource Planning Systems, and there are development constraints that don’t allow people to make modifications or patches,” she said. “So they have to make manual adjustments,” which, along with other complexities can affect audit readiness.

This year’s survey marked the first time questions addressed the Pentagon’s new financial manager certification program for broader workforce development. “Most of the leadership polled does not feel that the … certification program will provide the right skills and depth of knowledge and experience to support future financial management requirements within their organization,” the report said.

Respondents were similarly mixed in their attitudes toward the bulk purchasing of shared services as a solution for more efficient acquisition. “Shared services is the way to go,” one said, “but DoD as a whole doesn’t buy in; it’s really a cultural issue within DoD.”

(Image via Mathieu Viennet /

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