Accounting for Army property worth $17 billion
December 2, 2011
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan--Property accountability and good stewardship of taxpayer dollars are things the United States Army takes very seriously.
To assist with good property accountability for the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, two teams from Army Sustainment Command, 401st's higher headquarters, deployed to from Rock Island, Ill. to Afghanistan. The first team focused on bringing property to record and the second team came to work on a number of Financial Liability Investigations of Property Loss, more commonly known as FLIPLs.
The 401st AFSB manages a property book valued at more than $17.4 billion consisting of thousands of pieces of rolling and more than one million pieces of non-rolling stock, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Barry G. Rice, theater property book officer. Rolling stock includes the largest mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles and non-rolling stock ranges from handheld items to huge generators and Force Provider containers.
"Our mission was to regain accountability as a result of the surge," said Allen Sims, ASC accountability division chief.
Accompanying Sims were Robert Michaels who specialized in wholesale policies and procedures; Roslyn Hopkins, specializing in FLIPLs; David Lapaczonek specializing in contract oversight and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Almonte Smith who worked with electronic systems to track and account for property. They were assisted by Jennifer Hollis-Cooper, AFSBn-Bagram, 401st AFSB property book officer, and other personnel from the brigade and battalions.
Sims said his team also engaged the asset visibility sections, brigade and battalion S-4 sections to assist them and provided training in several areas.
"This trip we were able to do more as far as property accountability," said Roslyn Hopkins, FLIPL specialist, who is on her second deployment to the 401st. She estimated the team reduced the amount of financial liability for 'lost' property by about 50 percent.
"We're moving in the right direction with more cross-talk," he said. "It's a team effort to regain accountability."
Sims and his team were on the ground for about 45 days and were soon followed by a special FLIPL team who were charged with resolving nine priority FLIPLs identified by the brigade commander.
"One FLIPL amounting to $142 million caught the commander's attention and he sent a request to Maj. Gen. Fontaine [Army Sustainment Command commanding general] to request help," Sue Cantu , FLIPL investigating officer team lead, said.
Team FLIPL's investigating officers had nine priority FLIPLs and a deadline of October 1 to resolve them Cantu said. She said the original nine were priorities because of the length of time they have been open, the cost of the items involved and/or the sensitive nature of some of the items.
"Based on meeting the original deadline and the commander's guidance, we've added more FLIPLs," she said.
A FLIPL is generated when a person who signed a hand receipt for Army property, and thereby accepted responsibility to safeguard that item or items, is unable to find the property or produce documentation showing a transfer to another hand receipt holder. An investigating officer is assigned to research the circumstances surrounding the loss of or damage to Army property. The investigating officer undertakes causative research to first and foremost try to find the missing property. The investigating officer will then determine if the hand receipt holder has any financial liability as a result of negligence. If a finding of financial liability is found, the hand receipt may owe the government money.
Comparing their job to NCIS, cold case files or a scavenger hunt, the team goes to great lengths to find missing equipment. While it may be obvious that it would be hard to lose a 25,000-pound vehicle, it can be difficult to find the right serial number in a fleet of vehicles that numbers in the thousands. They do it by examining lists of battle damaged vehicles and leveraging the institutional knowledge of the logistics assistance representatives and contractors who may have worked on the pieces of equipment. They also scrub lists of equipment 'found on installation.'
Robert L. Kotte recalled looking for a five-ton truck that turned up missing when the AFSBn-Kandahar completed a 100% inventory of its rolling stock.
"We were thrown off by a dash," he said. "The serial number on one document had a dash in it while other documents did not have the dash. I was able to establish accountability "
He traced the vehicle back to Red River Army Depot where it had been sent for repair work. "Every time we close one [a FLIPL], it's rewarding , especially if we find the equipment."
"We came in thinking they [FLIPLs] would all be the same," said Lt. Col. Ronnie M. Davis. "We found out that each one is unique."
Maj. Quincy D. Washington had two FLIPLs valued at $28 million. He said the hand receipt holder left without a proper turnover to the next hand receipt holder. The second hand receipt holder continued to sign paperwork indicating the property was inventoried, but eventually it was discovered that the property was missing.
Namon L. Howell had a similar situation involving generators. He said if the property can't be found here, it's been sent back to the U.S. somewhere and the team follows the paperwork trail wherever it leads.
"Talking to the investigating officer gives people a chance to tell their story," said Charles E. Cahill, investigating officer.
"We make sure it's re-established on the property book and entered into PBUSE [a web-based tracking system]," Davis said. "Once it's there, it's tracked."