NEWS | April 20, 2020

Army Audit Forges Ahead during COVID-19

By Thomas Brading Army News Service

WASHINGTON -- Despite challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Army’s third annual audit is underway and on track to wrap up this fall, says a top Army comptroller, as the force aims to build off last year’s progress.

Rather than inspect Army bases in-person, auditors are relying on digital tools -- like virtual walkthroughs and teleconferences -- to continue the annual Pentagon requirement.

Each year, the Army spends $35 to $40 million to complete its share of the Department of Defense audit.

“American taxpayers deserve to know we are tracking down every penny of their investment,” said William Roberts, accountability and audit readiness director for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Since 2018, the Army has come closer to fulfilling that guarantee, he added.

Last year, the results made strides from the 2018 audit, including how the Army finds documents to support financial transactions.

This year, the Army’s goal is prioritizing more high-impact findings and material weaknesses, along with further compliance with standards across the priority areas, officials said.

“The Army’s decision to focus on these areas will not only help achieve an audit opinion but will also increase the impact of readiness on operational-level commands,” Roberts said. “The Army will keep building on strength and readiness to be accountable and transparent.”

Since 1990, Congress has required annual audits from government agencies. However, for years Pentagon officials argued the Defense Department was too big and complex for an agency to accurately inspect them, Roberts said.

That changed in 2018, when the DOD conducted its first-ever financial statement audit. The initial report, as expected, uncovered multiple flaws in operations across the military.

The Army received an “official disclaimer” score by the auditors -- a technical term that means more headway is still needed, but the inspectors did not have sufficient evidence to give an opinion.

However, the results are consistent with other federal agencies that complete their initial financial statement audits. For example, the Department of Homeland Security -- albeit smaller, newer and less complex than the DOD -- took 10 years to obtain a clean score.

Disclaimer scores also help the Army establish a baseline guide for corrective actions, and do not indicate fraud or mismanagement, officials said.

The Army’s audits, done in phases throughout the year, are conducted by an outside public accounting firm, which has a five-year contract with the Army.

Normally, during the initial phase, auditors conduct site visits and compile necessary documents from command personnel in-person. Then, they study the obtained documents to understand the various business processes at installations and agencies.

A few months later, they hit the road again to test those business practices, followed by inspecting inventory numbers to ensure everything matches up, Roberts said.

Around mid-November, a final report is completed and delivered to Army leaders.

Inspection examples include the accuracy of buildings and property, military inventory, payment reports, and overall compliance with laws and regulations.

Auditing a large and complex agency like the Army, which employs more than 1.5 million individuals both in and out of uniform, “can be a difficult task,” Roberts said.

But, many incremental successes help bolster the Army’s auditing process, he added, like financial accountability and operational readiness.

“Our goal is to understand whether the financial statements match the supplies, services, and operations -- all the way from Army headquarters to boots on the ground,” Roberts explained.

Army officials believe these improvements will continue, regardless of setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, the audit is scheduled to be conducted remotely.

“Winning matters and operational discipline will lead to success. We’re going to do what needs to be done to leave the Army in a better position [in 2020],” said Jonathan Moak, principal deputy for the OASA for Financial Management and Comptroller.