Military Finance Report: May 2014

Friday, May 2, 2014

End of the Fiscal Year Discussion

Have you ever wondered why at the end of the fiscal year (30 Sep) it seems like your organization purchases items they don’t need? Have you ever wondered why money isn’t available during the fiscal year for mission essential items but then there is plenty at the end of the fiscal year? These things happen because 1) the constitution sets limits on when funds (appropriations) are available and 2) the political environment and economic situation is so messed up causing delays in normal budget processes.  Regardless of your rank, you can play a pivotal role in stopping this.
Appropriations – Many people ask why funds are only available from 1 Oct – 30 Sep. The reason is because this is how the government was set up by the constitution. Funds are appropriated to the Department of Defense for specific reasons. The funds most of use day-to-day is called Operations and Maintenance funds and they are only good for one fiscal year. We must “zero out” all those funds during the fiscal year or else they won’t be available for use anymore (sort of, but for this conversation let’s just say the funds are unavailable). There are other types of funds that are good for 2, 3, 5, 10 years and some with no expirations.
But it is important to note that budgeting is not easier, or better, for those multi-year appropriations. In my personal opinion, we have more budgeting problems in the multi-year appropriations then our normal one-year funds. The one-year cycle gives current commanders the visibility and control to either make good use of the funds or abuse them on non-mission critical expenses.
Budget Cycle – For our normal Operations and Maintenance funds, the funds are good from 1 Oct – 30 Sep. In a normal political and fiscal environment, units would have their funds sometime in October. Commanders at all levels could execute the funding as appropriate. In April/May, Headquarters would perform Mid-Year reviews to ensure the units are spending correctly and see if there is any excess or additional funding needed for or from other units. By law, on 31 Jul, units at all levels must be 80% spent (or obligated). Sometime at the end of August, your local finance office will assume command of all funds not designated for a specific purpose to ensure your base/post/station can execute the funds by 30 Sep. And finally, by 30 Sep, all funds must be spent.
Unfortunately, due to the inadequacy of our political and fiscal situation, we start the fiscal year in a Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA). This means that units must stay at the previous year’s spending cap and can‘t spend money on new projects. After 15 years in the military, I’ve concluded that each New Year ALWAYS has new surprises, but they have to be deferred until the CRA is over, sometimes causing more expensive future problems. Lately, Commanders haven’t received their budget until Mar-May. This only gives Commanders less than 6 months to execute their missions appropriately before the local finance office assumes control over the funds. During CRA and the short time Commanders have funds available, this may be the reason why you don’t have funds when you needed them. It could be simply they don’t have the funds available at that specific time. If this happens to you in your unit, then you need to get with your Resource Advisor/Resource Management team and make sure you have a solid spend plan to forecast your requirements and to ensure cash availability.
Unfunded Requirements Listing - Sometime halfway through the fiscal year, units will generate an Unfunded Requirements Listing to track all the requirements of the unit. At the end of the fiscal year, units may get additional funding to buy down items on the list. A good commander will put most of the money for mission requirements but it is important to spend a portion on Quality of Life initiatives. Commanders at each level will prioritize which requirements are the most important. This is where the problem usually comes from. Some commanders will prioritize non-essential requirements OVER essential requirements. There could many reasons but most aren’t as malicious as the stories seem. Commanders often have better visibility on issues and the direct impacts to the Wing. So it may seem like the wrong choice in your circle of influence, but the Commander may have a better sight picture. Unfortunately though, and despite plenty of opposition, I’ve seen Commanders spend a lot of money on items not essential and, while they may be permissible, waste money that could have been spent on much needed items.
What can you do to stop the wasting of money? Regardless of your rank, you have a part in the process. If you are junior in rank, then you can make sure your bosses are keenly aware of the requirements you need.  You can maintain a “wish list” of the items you need to complete your mission. Do all the leg work to be prepared to purchase the item, so you only need funding to execute. Sometimes the first prepared is the first to receive money. If your rank allows you to be in the prioritization discussion, and then make sure you voice your concerns about what truly is mission essential. Some Commanders make decisions based on the “squeaky wheel” or the” most recent requirement” and they need your insight to what is actually mission critical and what isn’t. If you are a decision maker, then listen to your subordinates on what is truly mission critical or not. If you are a commander, remember that the “Gucci” days of infinite funding are gone and large expenses may be taking away from the core mission.
Personal Story: I remember being in communications- electronics maintenance and needing some parts, $30K total) that couldn’t be purchased under normal supply conditions. We were told we couldn’t buy them because there wasn’t any money. But at the end of the fiscal year, the unit Commander purchased several $20K glass display cases to hold squadron memorabilia. Two things could have happened there: 1) My message of mission critical parts never got to the commander in the appropriate forum or 2) The commander chose the glass display cases versus mission-critical parts. Either way, from my point of view, in my circle of influence on the mission, it seemed like money wasted.
Have you experienced any good or bad funding decisions?  Leave a comment and let me know.