WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army hopes a program established through its comptroller’s office will help it reach a clean audit, a milestone the service hasn’t met since Defense Department audits began in 2018.
The Army established the Command Accountability and Execution Review, or CAER, in 2018 to improve spending visibility. The service approached the effort from three echelons: the command level; the Department of the Army level; and the enterprise level (meaning the Defense Department).
Through the review process, the 34 funded Army commands each have a set of 11 key performance indicators meant to measure performance as directly tied to fiscal stewardship. Commanders review these at a monthly meeting led by the Army undersecretary and the Army vice chief of staff.
The program is ongoing, Lt. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, the military deputy for the Army’s comptroller, said in an interview with Defense News leading up to the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
“We do meet every single month with our senior leaders,” he said. “It includes enterprise leaders; it also includes leaders in all our units, those commanders and command teams, as they are reporting out on how they are executing their money.”
Chamberlain said the program is working internally; now, Army Comptroller Caral Spangler wants to see if it can help the service meet its audit goals.
“I’m taking a look at that to see if there’s a way for us to apply some of the principles of CAER into how we get after some of the challenges that we’ve had in achieving audit readiness,” Chamberlain said. “There’s some opportunity there. We really have just started digging into this.”
The CAER program was intended to address three major pain points. The first is the supply chain, from repair parts to fuel to other supplies; its sheer enormity makes it ripe for wasteful spending.
The Army’s second problem is contract management, primarily services contracts. The Army found that its contracting activities needed to be better spread across the entire fiscal year.
The third is centered around transporting people and equipment. Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, Chamberlain’s predecessor, said in 2019 the Army previously “did not budget well” for transportation.
Chamberlain is assembling a team to examine which elements of the CAER program will apply to the audit.
Spangler said she expects there to be relevant pieces. For example, she said, the CAER program requires commands to report unmatched transactions “when your obligation and your expenditure are not the same number.”
Likewise, she added, in the review “we have to produce audit evidence, we have to support the transaction.”
Another potential area of overlap is the tracking and accountability of equipment. For the audit, the Army needs to know not only what equipment a unit has and where it is, but also the value of the equipment, with paperwork to support that, Spangler explained.
“By kind of reinforcing that, and having them report on some of the status of some of those elements, we think we’re going to do a better job with being able to prove to the auditors that we do know what our stuff is, and what its value is,” she added.
The formal results of the most recent audit aren’t expected until Nov. 15, but Spangler said the Army learned in March it will receive an opinion that “means [auditors] couldn’t render an opinion because we don’t have good enough evidence to support the transactions and things.”
Since then, she noted, the Army has worked with the auditors, getting advice “so we essentially form a game plan about what we need to fix.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.