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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Coast Guard Slashes Backlog of Old Invoices But Has ‘Not Yet Attained Stability’ in FSMS Transition

The FSMS Transition Incident Command will be kept operational through at least March 31, 2023, CFO tells workforce.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s transition to the Financial Systems Modernization Solution has sped up backlog processing and made strides in system response time, Assistant Commandant for Resources and Chief Financial Officer Craig Bennett said today, though USCG has “not yet attained stability with FSMS technologies, standardized business processes, and tools to further increase user proficiency.”

The FSMS transition was off and running in January, marking “truly the beginning of a new era for the United States Coast Guard’s Financial Management and Procurement Services,” then-Assistant Commandant for Resources and CFO Rear Admiral Mark Fedor said at the time.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) made the transition to the Oracle-based FSMS in October 2019 and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) made the move in October 2020. Fedor noted at the end of October that the Coast Guard transition, intended to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of managing a $12 billion budget, is “most complex just because of our broad range of missions associated with it.”

FSMS was designed to interface with numerous Coast Guard systems including ALMIS, NESSS, FLS, MISLE, DPOMS, MOSIS, Direct Access, AUXDATA, and ETS2, and connect with external applications from the National Finance Center, Defense Logistics Agency, GSA, and Treasury Department.

Coast Guard employees were told in May 2021 that the move to FSMS — “the largest financial system transition in Coast Guard history” that “will affect everyone in the Coast Guard” — would have continuity built in for prioritized processing of military, civilian, and retirement pay. Web-based FSMS training courses were announced at the time, with system testing running from July through the beginning of September. The legacy Core Accounting System Suite was shut off day before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, transitioning to the temporary Cutover Financial System.

USCG implemented an FSMS support team to help employees navigate the transition, with the majority of user queries answered through posting questions online and others bumped up to help tickets.

In a memo to the workforce at the end of last year, Fedor said that with the FINCEN backlog of vendor invoices and employee vouchers “priority will be placed on utilities, small businesses, member payments, and large dollar contract payment” while “the remaining invoices will generally be processed on first in, first out methodology.”

On March 14, the Coast Guard commandant stood up the FSMS Transition Incident Command (IC) “to lead and integrate efforts to develop and implement solutions to the challenges related to FSMS transition.”

The Transition IC outlined the objectives of the new system: “Pay our people – eliminate the backlog of member payments (e.g., PPM, TDY, PCS, etc.) and streamline the process for future payments; pay our bills – clear the past-due invoice backlog; improve FSMS performance; facilitate execution of FY22 funding; and integrate and enhance communications to the workforce as well as our external stakeholders and partners.”

In an update to the workforce today, Assistant Commandant for Resources and Chief Financial Officer Craig Bennett, who assumed his role in June, said that by the end of September more than 8,000 backlogged member payments, including PCS, PPM, TLA, TDY, and Auxiliary claims, had been paid. “Business processes and/or alternative procedures were implemented to enable our workforce to sustain paying member claims,” he said.

The backlog of invoices greater than 30 days old has been reduced from over 27,500 to fewer than 1,200 invoices, Bennett said. “Key processes such as the High Risk Vendor Payment Team and the FSMS Commanding Officer’s Overdue Invoice Report will continue until the backlog is fully resolved and critical invoice processing procedures (e.g, matching and receipting) are improved,” he said.

Performance of the new system “has been measured primarily by system operational availability and system response time,” and “operational availability improved to an average of approximately 98.9% during the fourth quarter compared to an average of approximately 92.3% during the third quarter of this fiscal year.”

“System response time has improved since early in the fiscal year,” Bennett noted. “The percent of user actions that respond in less than five seconds has averaged approximately 84% in September 2022 compared [to] approximately 74% in the June 2022, moving closer to the system requirement that 95% of user actions respond in less than five seconds. We have improved business processes and reduced transaction volume to improve system performance, streamline processes and decrease burden on field units.”

This includes using bulk obligations for purchase card transactions, centralizing high volume/low dollar obligations such as utilities and transportation, and utilizing robotic process automation for efficient processing of select repetitive manual transactions.

Bennett said the Transition IC has worked in close partnership with leaders and stakeholders “to facilitate execution of FY22 appropriations, reconciling $1.5B in FSMS/General Ledger inconsistencies,” and “the execution of FY 22 appropriations is expected to be consistent with typical execution parameters.”

“While we have made considerable progress with system performance, process improvements, data reconciliation, and backlog processing compared to January 2022, we have not yet attained stability with FSMS technologies, standardized business processes, and tools to further increase user proficiency,” Bennett continued, adding that the FSMS Transition Incident Command will be kept operational through at least March 31, 2023, with Capt. Erich Klein as the incident commander.

Bennett outlined the objectives that will guide efforts over the next six months:

  • “Continue to monitor processing time for CG member payments; identify and resolve gaps in business processes and interface functionality.
  • Continue to monitor and resolve factors preventing timely invoice payments.
  • Transition the FSMS Assistance Support Team (FAST) end user resource to Service Now (SNOW) Tier 0 as help desk entry point for all FSMS service ticket requests.
  • Develop a strategy to address business process workarounds implemented during the early stages of FSMS use.
  • Establish and monitor Centralized Obligation Group to obligate recurring charges including utilities, GSA leases, GSA vehicles, and FEDEX to enable efficient payment of related invoices.
  • Evaluate completeness of FSMS reports effectiveness; identify and resolve gaps in reports capability which impact enterprise and unit management of funds and transactions.
  • Continue to monitor system performance and work with DHS Joint Program Management Office to implement system enhancements and improvements.
  • Improve efficiency and effectiveness of purchase card expense matching.
  • Improve reimbursable transaction processing including implementation of the Treasury G-Invoicing system early in FY23 and intergovernmental payment and collection transaction processing with focus on timely end-user receipting and improved obligation attributes.
  • Maintain and enhance communications website containing FSMS announcement, resources, and job aids.
  • Develop interim metrics and reports, data analytics capabilities, and dashboard capabilities for leaders to monitor enterprise and unit financial health.
  • Develop and communicate formal training development capabilities and interim training tools and opportunities.”

Later in FY23, the plan is to transition the Incident Command and surge resources to “organic organizational components” in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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