Taking on a problem that’s plagued the Department of Defense for decades takes relentless, and some would even say savage, determination, coupled with a honed set of skills.
Entrenched in the fight of getting the Army a clean audit, Chris Savage, U.S. Army Financial Management Command Audit Response Center senior financial management analyst, took on one of the accounting world’s Goliaths and was recently named as a recipient of the 2020 Louis Dellamonica Award for Outstanding U.S. Army Materiel Command Personnel of the Year for his efforts.
“Chris pioneered and implemented the first-ever General Fund Enterprise Business System reimbursable data transaction reconciliations between the Army and various agencies, addressing a widely-shared and long-standing intragovernmental trading partner audit material weakness,” said Denise Gallion, ARC director.
Those agencies now include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and U.S. Marine Corps.
“This is as exciting as it gets for accountants,” said Charlie Lopez, ARC supervisory accountant. “The reporting on the reimbursable transactions with trading partners is such a big problem that it’s one of the big reasons the financial statements of the entire U.S. government gets a disclaimer each year.
“I think what’s so exciting is the impact that we have as we progress our audit improvement,” Lopez continued. “To be able to track money as it flows throughout the federal government as a whole and have controls on it, that adds transparency for the American taxpayer.”
The root of the problem stems from money transfers between the military services and other federal agencies where those transfers don’t yet have the controls in place to make sure they are documented sufficiently enough for an independent audit, Savage explained.
“Before 2020, we never extracted the data from GFEBS or talked with the other agencies to see why things weren’t matching and why the data wasn’t hitting (the Defense Departmental Reporting System) in a proper way,” he added. “Everything has to match perfectly for it to go to the right place.”
To solve this issue, Savage enacted routine data calls, where the GFEBS data is matched up against trading partner data so that any discrepancies can be researched and remedied. He also had to reach out to those other agencies to get their data and work with them on resolutions.
“Now, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, who’s making the data inputs for us, can support more than 50 percent of the data they are inputting compared to just 10 to 15 percent before,” said Savage. “But, it is still very labor intensive, so we’re looking at automation and additional work support to continue the work.”
Lopez said that statement doesn’t truly reflect the herculean efforts performed.
“Chris advanced auditability in a key area that few people thought was possible,” he elaborated. “A lot of other agencies haven’t made a lot of progress in reimbursable transactions, but Chris did the leg work in advancing this far above what anyone would expect, especially for the Army, the biggest military service with lots of data and lots of complexity around that data.”
Looking to the future, Savage said his goal is to take what he’s pioneered and have others benchmark off his work.
“The idea is to keep doing this better and better, and share with the other agencies what we are doing so they can benefit from this,” he explained. “Just this last quarter, we were able to have HHS match up against our numbers.”
However, taking on such a massive behemoth was not what the financial management analyst set as his original target.
Savage explained his first idea was just to match fund transfers within the Army’s GFEBS accounting system, but that led to him reconciling the GFEBS data with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Financial Management System, which then led to him taking on the issue with other DoD agency partners.
“Chris was able to effectively communicate with other agencies and cooperate with them to compare data from their accounting systems and ours,” said Bryan Trinh, DFAS Departmental Reporting Army Budget Execution Team accountant. “With his background and knowledge of GFEBS, he was able to navigate through the systems to pull out what is related to trading partners.”
“He’s been able to leverage and stretch his prior military and civilian experiences, and he’s really diligent in putting the extra effort to achieve the results quickly,” added Lopez about the retired Army National Guard sergeant 1st class. “When we talk about fixing things like this, there isn’t a clear template on how to do this.
“It’s like flying a plane and building an engine in flight,” he continued. “A lot of it was his can-do attitude and finding ways to surmount challenges quickly.”
While acknowledging Savage’s dogged determination to fiercely take on this issue, many of those he worked with had nothing but kind words in regard to his demeanor.
“Despite limited resources and lack of clear precedents, he successfully persevered, while selflessly sharing and assisting others,” said Gallion. “Peers and junior teammates view Chris as a consummate professional who willingly shares his vast experience, knowledge and skillsets with others when needed or wanted.”
“He’s a great person and has been a pleasure to work with,” added Trinh. “He’s always ready to answer any questions we have and share his vast amount of knowledge. I learned a lot about the GFEBS accounting system from him.”
While those interviewed lavished praise on Savage, his response to learning of the award was to put the spotlight on his ARC teammates.
“I want to thank my team first for helping me out as they were inspirational throughout the whole process,” he said. “While I’m truly honored to receive this award, I wasn’t expecting it.”
“To me, I was just doing my job, but I am grateful for the recognition,” he concluded. “I’m just glad I can put my skillset to good use.”
The Dellamonica Award is named in honor Louis Dellamonica, a general engineer with a 65-year career at the Hawthorne Army Depot who “exemplified integrity, innovation, leadership and outstanding dedication to the Army Materiel Command’s mission.”
Dellamonica’s biggest project in his career was the design and construction of the Western Area Demilitarization Center, which was used to demilitarize ammunition. His efforts helped safely demilitarize more than 67,000 tons of ammunition during his tenure.
USAFMCOM conducts enterprise-level financial operations, provides technical coordination for Finance and Comptroller units and military pay support with commands across the Army, in order to ensure the effective implementation of policies and programs to support optimally resourcing the Army and supporting Soldiers.
ARC executes and implement audit policies, providing oversight and evaluation of enterprise compliance preparedness for audit-of-business processes through discovery, testing and training.