The Department of the Air Force has undoubtedly led the U.S. military’s modernization push in the last few years — DAF leaders have long been champions of transformational changes like IT improvements, digital transformation efforts and data advancements. But officials argue that financial management, or FM, needs a bigger seat at the table in these critical conversations.
One key priority right now for Hon. Kristyn Jones, assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller at the Department of the Air Force, is optimizing the notoriously challenging audit process through more of an enterprise approach.
“We’ve been going after audit for a long time — we’ve been trying to replace business systems, trying to improve our data for a long time. Some of these challenges have taken quite a long time and we’re not there yet,”
Business systems, Jones revealed, are often the main cause of audit-related challenges; some of the DAF’s legacy systems are at the end of their lifespan, and officials are now looking at where they can move these systems. DAF is now moving to the Department of Defense’s big data platform, Advana, and working on eliminating some of its legacy platforms — a keystone effort for the service’s IT environment since its Operation Flamethrower initiative launched in 2020.
Another challenge Jones encounters is the compartmentalization of financial matters, like audits and balance sheets, as something separate from the larger organization.
“A lot of people think of the audit as an FM problem, but the things that we’re trying to get after are where is our military equipment? What’s its condition? Is it properly recorded on our books? Do we know how many munitions we have? Do we know about our materiel that’s in contractor inventory points, or have we lost accountability of that?” Jones explained.
“So it’s not just how do we ticket tie the numbers, but it’s really what are our capabilities in terms of all of these assets that we own? So that’s not an FM problem, that’s an enterprise problem,” she added.
Jones joined the Department of the Air Force in May 2022, returning to government after spending nearly seven years in the private sector. Her breadth of experience in budget, cost, audit, systems and more across military, government and industry is an asset she plans to leverage as she brings a more cohesive enterprise approach to traditional FM challenges.
In the time since her confirmation to the role, Jones has released the first ever FM strategy for the Department of the Air Force, which encompasses both the Air Force and the Space Force. Her three main goals for the strategy are to develop and retain a highly-skilled FM team; to harness technology, standardized processes and data analytics to enhance accountability; and to optimize resources, mitigate risks and improve service to its customers.
In addition to these goals, Jones aims to factor in risk management, requirements and IT needs into how she executes the FM strategy and ensures that the DAF is well-resourced for winning the future fight.
Jones concedes that the force has tech debt both in terms of IT and also in facilities and other areas. Going forward, Jones said she’s working closely with Air Force CIO Lauren Knausenberger to understand how to best resource and modernize the department without taking too much risk in the short term.
“We also need to be smarter about how we’re spending our money in terms of IT,” she offered. Jones is looking at requirements, in particular, to identify areas where the DAF can save money, harvest it and put it toward the next big priority. Ultimately though, Jones the service’s requirements are much larger than the funding they can provide.
“There are going to be things we can’t get after,” she shared. “How do we make risk-informed decisions across the joint force and in fact, the whole of government so that we do have the transformed Air Force and Space Force that the Secretary is driving toward?”
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