Preparation, collaboration key to successful Army FY21 Year-end Close

By Emily O'NeillNovember 16, 2021

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

When most people hear the term ‘New Year,’ they may think about resolutions and winter vacation. For the finance and comptroller community, ‘New Year’ is synonymous with year-end close (YEC)—a process the Army completes every year to finalize financial obligations by midnight on Sept. 30.

YEC encompasses all Army components and echelons from Army commands to Headquarters, Department of the Army offices, in coordination with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and other federal entities.

“Our finance and comptroller professionals are promoting fiscal stewardship at every single level to fulfill our mission of optimally resourcing the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Mark S. Bennett, the Director of Army Budget, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller [ASA (FM&C)]. “Completing YEC is big part of that process, and because of the hard work and collaboration of our teams across the enterprise, along with our service providers, we closed out Fiscal Year 2021 successfully.”

Every year, the Army Budget Office, a directorate within the Office of ASA (FM&C), coordinates with Army commands on executing funds received for the current fiscal year. Leading up to YEC,

ABO disseminates guidance to receive frequent status updates, while requesting detailed explanations on requirements for any unspent funding.

After the midnight deadline

While many financial managers and comptrollers may share a collective sigh of relief after midnight on Sept. 30 when the Army’s financial and partner systems close, the weeks following close-out have their own unique challenges to navigate.

After the federal government enacts a continuing resolution or appropriations act, ABO loads and distributes new fiscal year funding to Army commands. During this timeframe, both ABO and Financial Operations and Accounting, OASA (FM&C), in coordination with USAFMCOM - Army Financial Services, prepare the financial statements using the Defense Departmental Reporting System.

“From Sept. 30 to Oct. 5, USAFMCOM AFS acts as the coordinator between the relevant organizations to ensure close-out activities are on track,” said Cynthia Price, USAFMCOM AFS systems accountant. “We also provide oversight to DFAS, monitoring their inputs and outputs at each step. If there is something wrong, we’re right in the middle of fixing it.”

Once Army financial data is submitted and accepted by DDRS, commands can proceed with the Year-End Certification Report, which they submit by Oct. 13. As field-level submissions come in, OASA(FM&C) financial reporting teams and DFAS departmental reporting teams work to validate and consolidate them, resulting in financial statement certification for the Army overall.

On Nov. 15, the Army submits its annual financial report to the Office of Management and Budget. The next fiscal year opening balances begin with the previous fiscal year's information.

A year-round team sport

As Col. Samuel Glover, Army Materiel Command’s military deputy G-8 (Comptroller), phrased it, the end of the FY is like the finance and comptroller’s version of the Super Bowl—the final event is important, but the victory is defined during the regular season and great planning every day.

“The key to success during YEC is a ‘triple play,’ leveraging teamwork, execution and communication,” said Glover. “When we work together to solve problems, we are unstoppable—in addition, by having a YEC operations order or plan, the team can stay on glide path, while meeting execution goals.”

Smart planning efforts employed by finance and comptroller professionals year-round paid off, with several Soldiers and Civilians within ASA (FM&C) echoing that superior communication practices and collaboration between teams across the Army finance and comptroller enterprise led to this year’s successful YEC.

“[YEC] is the culmination of a year-long effort to posture the Army […] beginning with monthly command calls, the annual DFAS-Army year-end workshop, the development of the year-end letter of instruction, and finally, the closeout process,” said Myrna L. Medina, director of Financial Operations and Accounting Oversight, OASA (FM&C). “Despite the long days and nights, along with the demands of meeting tight deadlines, everyone is upbeat and motivates each other.”

In July, USAFMCOM’s AFS directorate led a two-week mock YEC with over 125 Department of Defense personnel in Indianapolis. Experts from organizations critical to closeout operations attended, including USAFMCOM’s Systems Support Operations directorate, ABO, DFAS, and General Fund Enterprise Business Systems (GFEBS) and GFEBS-Sensitive Activities project management offices.

The exercise prepared offices well for game time on Sept. 30 – and allowed financial managers to get a jump start on closing accounts.

“Unlike the year-end workshop, Mock [YEC] only involves the people who are actually going to take part in the YEC,” said Price. “We got through all the steps of the real YEC so we could work out all the bugs, test new processes and increase our collaboration.”

Given internal system challenges and new requirements, Wendy Ward, USAFMCOM’s SSO Business Intelligence chief, added that there were many steps involved in YEC. “Without Mock, I don’t think we would have been successful,” she said.

Leveraging technology and teamwork for success

This is the second year in a row that the Army carried out YEC operations in a fully virtual environment. While the mechanisms for communication were tested in 2020, according to ABO and USAFMCOM staff, this year’s virtual YEC went off without a hitch.

Using feedback and lessons learned from last year’s YEC and the last Mock YEC, Kim Hood, AFS Accounting Oversight and Operations chief, and SSO’s Wendy Ward, built out the necessary collaboration environment for FY21 YEC in Microsoft Teams, easing communication and workload pressures.

“[We] achieved [YEC success] by leveraging technology, striking a balancing between workforce and mission requirements, and maintaining compliance with the DoD’s health and safety requirements,” said Col. Scott White, ABO’s director of operations.

Veronica Helden, a division chief within ABO, said that there was no break in the continuity of operations. She commended her team’s adaptability, saying the success of FY21’s YEC was the result of thoughtful coordination, planning, and integrating across appropriation sponsors.

“I am always impressed – but not surprised – with the work and dedication from [the team] to ensure a seamless close-out,” Helden said. “Folks work together, cross-coordinate, and help each other out of jams as we all drive together toward a common goal.”

With communication and coordination obstacles in a virtual environment mastered, other nuances presented new challenges to overcome.

“This year-end was compounded by multiple changes impacting not only ABO and the commands, but the financial system as well,” said Elizabeth Tognarelli, an ABO senior financial management analyst.

Despite these complications, all while being geographically disbursed, Tognarelli said that it was truly a “coming together of minds” to support all the changes impacting the Army.

“Personnel throughout OASA (FM&C), USAFMCOM, and others met virtually either virtually through Microsoft Teams, or on the telephone in a structured and well planned schedule to ensure all bases were covered and that nothing was left behind,” she added.

An evolving process

The Financial Operations and Accounting Oversight team from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Financial Operations and Information, in coordination with ABO, DFAS, USAFMCOM, and Army commands, produce daily and weekly metrics through data analytics for both Army enterprise resource planning platforms and legacy systems. These tools are becoming increasingly important during YEC, and year-round efforts to maximize fiscal stewardship within the Army.

“Data analytics continues to play a large role in more accurately projecting execution, by month and for the entire FY, while accounting for expired year disbursements and adjustments,” said Valerie Alexander, ABO’s division chief for Army Military Personnel programs.

Desiree Duckett, an ABO financial management analyst, explained how data analytics trends employed during the process encompassed the timely and consistent reporting of errors and obligation status, which aided her work.

“With these reports, I was able to get a quick snapshot of where I was in the close-out process, and what I needed to focus on instead of spinning unnecessary wheels in the wrong places,” Duckett said.

From the DFAS perspective, data analytics helped their staff to identify and resolve transactional anomalies throughout the fiscal year, putting them in a better position for YEC. Their teams identified and corrected a population of erroneously cleared transactions, which improved the accuracy of Army’s financial statements for end-of-year reporting.

“A successful YEC is achieved through a team-of-teams effort,” said Kinzie Kincaid, DFAS Accounts Maintenance and Control (Army/Air Force). “[That includes] both customer and service provider working side-by-side throughout the entire year.”