A ‘perfect storm’ of challenges hits Pentagon’s financial employees

Defense Department financial workers just aren’t enjoying their jobs any more, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 employees. And it’s no surprise: They’re still tinkering with 2013 budgets because of the sequester, while working on the 2014 budget and preparing for audit readiness, simultaneously.

“And then we turn around and furlough them, freeze their pay and don’t hire anyone to help with the workload,” said Lou Crenshaw, recently retired principal at Grant Thornton, an accounting and advisory organization.

For two-thirds of those interviewed, it’s the largest confluence of challenges they’ve ever faced. “I think it’s a perfect storm,” Crenshaw said.

In the 11th annual survey of DOD financial executives and managers conducted by the American Society of Military Comptrollers and Grant Thornton LLP — titled “Navigating Through Uncertainty” — the most striking result, Crenshaw said, was the faltering job satisfaction among employees.


In the previous 10 years, senior executives had almost uniformly responded they loved their job. Last year, 86 percent said they “enjoyed their job a lot.”

“This time, it wasn’t quite so rosy,” Crenshaw said.

Only 53 percent echoed the same sentiment. And going down the chain of command, it got worse. Among managers, only 21 percent enjoy their job “a lot,” although 42 percent did say they “enjoy it most of the time.”

Causing this strain were three concerns: fiscal uncertainty, low morale and audit readiness. While 34 percent of managers and 29 percent of executives had “confidence” in their organization’s ability to hit the 2015 auditability deadline, only 3 percent of executives and 14 percent of managers had “high confidence.” And a robust 45 percent of executives have “very little confidence” or “no confidence.”

Crenshaw believes the military services might be setting the bar too high for audit readiness. It would take two more years, he said, to get to a place where each division could be audited and “pass with flying colors.” It should be more about getting each branch to the point where an audit could lead to useful reforms, a comment he saw echoed in the survey.


“The surprising comment made from the field was that many people thought, ‘Let’s stop dancing around the bush and getting ready for audit, and just do it,’” Crenshaw said, adding the Marine Corps had already started this process and was working on it with Grant Thornton. “I personally find that refreshing.”

Stress has also come from new information technology systems, which respondents said were actually adding, not reducing, the overall workload. So much effort is being spent on implementing new systems, Crenshaw said, that employees are reaping few benefits.

But hope is potentially on the horizon. As audits begin, new IT systems are fully installed and budgets fall into place, some of the strains could be alleviated. Military commanders in the field are increasingly recognizing that audit readiness means combat readiness, and having everyone on board as the audit process begins will be a big boost to morale, Crenshaw said.

“We’re beginning to get some certainty,” he added.

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