DOD uses accounting adjustments to record corrections or changes in its financial systems. Such adjustments should be accompanied by documentation showing why the change was needed. Some accounting adjustments that DOD frequently makes—including “forced-balance” adjustments to make its financial systems agree with Treasury balances—don’t have adequate supporting documentation.
The Government Accountability Office recommends that DOD reduce the use of accounting adjustments to ensure they have reliable and accurate financial information. The agency’s financial management has been on GAO’s High Risk list since 1995.
While the use of accounting adjustments is a common practice, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) reliance on a large volume of nonroutine adjustments to prepare its financial statements is primarily a result of deficient business processes and limitations in accounting systems that DOD components use to process financial information. For example, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) continues to rely on forced-balance adjustments to replace the financial information that DOD’s components submit to force agreement with Department of the Treasury balances without reconciling and researching the cause of differences (see figure). The recording of these adjustments was identified as a material weakness in DOD’s internal control over financial reporting in its fiscal year 2018 financial statement audit.
GAO found that DOD and DFAS policies and procedures for accounting adjustments are insufficient, outdated, and inconsistently implemented. For example, DOD’s current policies do not define what constitutes adequate supporting documentation for system-generated adjustments, nor have DOD and DFAS established policies for identifying the cause of the adjustments, developing and implementing action plans to reduce the need for adjustments, and monitoring the effectiveness of those action plans. Because DOD and DFAS are not ensuring that their policies and procedures are up-to-date and consistently implemented, there is an increased risk that inaccurate, invalid, or unapproved adjustments will be recorded in DOD’s core financial reporting system, resulting in a misstatement in DOD’s consolidated financial statements.
DOD and DFAS have undertaken initiatives to address some of the issues that contribute to the need for adjustments. Both organizations have developed strategies to decrease adjustments; however, neither has developed specific outcomes or detailed procedures for achieving stated goals in the strategies. Without clear procedures on how to implement its initiatives and a complete understanding across DOD of the issues contributing to the need for accounting adjustments, there is an increased risk that management efforts to reduce adjustments at the DOD consolidated level will be inefficient and ineffective.
GAO is making eight recommendations to DOD, which include updating and implementing policies and procedures on recording accounting adjustments and identifying steps to reduce the need for recording adjustments across the department. DOD agreed with all eight recommendations and cited actions to address them.