The Command Accountability and Execution Review Program

By Lt. Gen. Thomas A. HorlanderJanuary 9, 2019

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Stewardship is everyone's responsibility. From the foxhole to the commanding general's office, from the supply room to the motor pool, from the depot to the port, from the justification book to the budget rollout on Capitol Hill, every single individual has a role to play in ensuring we are, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, "peerless stewards of the taxpayers' dollars," and that we optimize those dollars' value, eliminating waste at every turn.

This cannot happen unless there is a well-architected, structured, disciplined, and resourced stewardship program that holds leaders responsible and accountable at every level across the national security spectrum.


Stretching every dollar to capture its full value in order to have increased readiness and lethality across the force is essential to America's ability to safeguard its vital national security interests around the globe today and in the future. One might not recognize or appreciate this vital need to optimize the purchasing power of every dollar we spend on the defense of our nation.

Our nation's history is replete with peaks and valleys in defense funding top lines and warfighting capabilities and readiness levels that would ebb and flow based upon resourcing levels. You have heard it said, "You go to war with what you've got." Let's make sure what we've got is the absolute best we can provide in order to give America's warfighter such an overwhelming advantage over any potential adversary that it would strike fear in the hearts of our enemies and it would be unconscionable for any competitor to challenge the United States on the field of battle.

Therein lies the commitment we must all behold and the responsibility that should set the azimuth for every resourcing decision we make at every level. This is the inherent responsibility of every leader, Soldier, and civilian who serves to protect and safeguard the security interests of the United States of America.

This is not an article about why we need more defense funding or a lamentation about the process and frustrations we all experience as we wade through the complexities of the federal budget process or the Department of Defense (DOD) planning, programming, and budgeting system. This article is about the Army's "premier" fiscal stewardship program, the Command Accountability and Execution Review (CAER) Program, and what we can do to help ourselves instead of putting our hand out every time we confront a resourcing challenge.

The true test of good stewards is not whether they spend every dollar that Congress appropriates to them but how well they spend it in support of the National Defense Strategy and leadership priorities. One way to measure this is through a thorough examination of deobligation trends during the expired state of an appropriation.

This can be very telling, humbling, and eye-opening. More so, it can provide leaders with a view of where they need to focus their energy and time. In the Army, we have invested a lot of both--seeking to see ourselves through this fiscal lens. It is now paying big, meaningful dividends as it has informed the development and implementation of the Army's CAER program.


Shortly after being sworn into office as the 23rd Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark Esper directed the establishment of an Army-wide fiscal stewardship program to address the Army's historic deobligation trends and improve the optimization of its purchasing power. The basic architecture of the program is rather simple; we developed and implemented a 3 × 3 × 3 approach addressing three major problems areas at three different echelons in three different venues.

THREE MAJOR PROBLEM AREAS. Deobligations in the Army's supply chain, service contracts, and transportation of equipment and personnel account for more than 90 percent of the Army's deobligation in its operations and maintenance appropriations.

THREE DIFFERENT ECHELONS. Everybody plays a role. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that it is the activity of the field Army that causes many of the deobligations, but they are actually caused at multiple echelons. Hence, the CAER program relies on reviews and focused energy at three different echelons: command, Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA), and enterprise.

THREE LEADERSHIP VENUES. On a monthly basis, the Army leadership conducts a by-command review chaired by Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville.

Also on a monthly basis, the Army Materiel Command commander, Gen. Gustave "Gus" Perna, chairs an enterprise-level review panel with the participation of key senior leaders from the U.S. Transportation Command, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Contract Management Agency, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Navy and Air Force G-8s, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the HQDA G-4, the HQDA comptroller, and others.

The third venue is a quarterly executive-level session chaired by the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army with the participation of Army four-star leaders. During this session, the Army's senior leaders provide strategic-level guidance and direction for the program.

This 3 × 3 × 3 framework alone makes the point that the success of the entire CAER program hinges on one element: active leadership participation. Without the Army's most senior leaders sitting at the head of the table and championing the program, the Army could never make the progress and achieve the intended results of the program.

Vital to optimizing the value of CAER are other elements, such as a mature, big data analytics capability, an automation program that leverages a variety of systems to collect current and relevant data, a partnership between the Army's sustainment and financial management communities, HQDA financial and sustainment leaders revising policies and procedures, field commands leveraging their tactical- and operational-level expertise to inform the program, and DOD senior leaders coming to the table to help improve enterprise processes. But nothing will replace active leadership participation as the single most important element of the program.


In the Training and Doctrine Command, the motto is "Victory Starts Here." This applies across the Army and certainly in the area of fiscal stewardship.

As a part of CAER, the Army has revisited and revised its stewardship training in its key leadership courses. In fiscal year 2019, fiscal stewardship for leaders will be taught in field-grade and general officer education in the Command and General Staff College, the Contracting Pre-Command Course, the Senior Service College, and the Army Strategic Education Program.

In its inaugural year of existence, CAER is making great inroads in helping the Army to channel its stewardship activities in the areas with the greatest payoff. The Army commands have embraced the program and have transported it to their subordinate tactical and operational commands, leveraging the program's key performance indicators to measure fiscal stewardship at every echelon.

At the strategic level, DOD organizations and the Army's sister services have not just been active participants in enterprise-level reviews, but have also started to make changes to their business policies and procedures and their own stewardship programs by borrowing best practices from CAER.

To be "peerless stewards of the taxpayers' dollars" takes a dedicated leadership effort at every echelon of national security. America's Army has set a course using its CAER program to do exactly that. Not only will this enable the Army to be the best possible stewards of the taxpayers' dollars, but it will ensure that we are able to produce every ounce of readiness and lethality that a dollar can buy, ultimately resulting in an armed force of warfighters that dominates any battlefield and is able to protect every vital national security interest of the United States of America.


Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Horlander is the military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller. He has served in numerous positions and at every level across the financial management and comptroller profession.


This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.

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