Col. Patrick Burden, the General Fund Enterprise Business System Project Manager, US Army's PEO EIS, is photographed at his office in Alexandria, VA, April 30, 2014. Photo by Rob Curtis, Staff (Rob Curtis/Staff / Military Times)
As project manager, Col. Patrick Burden oversees the operations of one of the military’s largest enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs, the General Fund Enterprise Business System. Designed to help the Army track finances, assets and accounting, the $1.8 billion program represents a significant step forward for Defense Department ERPs, particularly as the Pentagon drives toward audit-readiness. In a recent interview with Federal Times Senior Writer Amber Corrin, Col. Burden outlined GFEBS’ top goals, its evolution over time and where the program is headed as part of broader DoD financial management reform.
What exactly is GFEBS?
GFEBS is our integrated Armywide management system. It’s the system of record for general funds and financial execution support. As a financial management and cost-accounting system, it transforms the way we do business as it relates to financial performance data, providing accurate and timely data and producing the most reliable cost information for decision-making.
How have your goals, mission and game plan changed over the course of the program/your involvement/the last few years? Where do you see those aspects going in the future — near-term and long-term?
When I first took on responsibilities as PM, we had a single focus on GFEBS. We were still developing capabilities, fielding capabilities to the Army. That came on in 2010.
We fully deployed the system by 2012; now we’re currently in the sustainment phase of the program. So essentially we’re doing sustainment operations, making some hardware modifications or enhancements to base capabilities. There are discussions in the Army about additional new requirements, potentially to be executed under a follow-on phase or release. So essentially we’ve transitioned to development and fielding for the system.
In the program office, there are additional responsibilities to come: a classified version, integration between our contracting procurement system and our financial management system.
There also are other potential new requirements. We don’t have a formal project yet — it’s still being vetted in Army — but one is to enable time and attendance capabilities that allow the civilian workforce to record their time tracking in the ERP. There’s discussion of integrating those capabilities into the existing system, so that’s a new requirement that was not originally the scope of GFEBS.
Another possibility is related to environmental managementand environmental liability. We have an existing effort, and we’re looking at moving to integrate environmental management and leveraging existing ERP capabilities to address new needs in the Army. But that’s still in the planning phases.
In the past, DoD’s ERPs have been tough and faced a lot of challenges and criticism. What’s different now, at least as far as your programs are concerned?
I think the Army understands better than it did in the past what it takes to develop and manage these systems, and the roles required across the Army — not just a PM, but a functional sponsor. We’ve worked hard to ensure that we work together to understand how systems are used, so we can understand how to deliver capabilities. We do our best to leverage commercial-off-the-shelf technologies to the greatest extent possible and modify products when needed. And that requires business process reengineering within the Army to really leverage out-of-the-box. We work with the functional components to make sure we understand what we’re getting out the box, and what absolutely must be augmented to meet U.S. and Army/DoD statues and regulations.
Across DoD there are significant efforts underway to move toward shared IT services. What are you doing in your office and with GFEBS that fits into those broader initiatives?
We have a number of services supporting the program office. One thing we’re doing is working with other ERP PMs to leverage services across multiple ERPs. We’re migrating local infrastructure residing in data centers from three separate networks to a single ERP network so we can have better efficiencies within the ERPs and we don’t go buy services three separate times.
We’re also working together to transition our service from an Army-owned, noncore data center to Defense Information Systems Agency core data centers. So those IT services common among ERPs, that’s where we’re looking to have shared services, and we do expect savings and efficiencies. There are definitely efficiencies to be gained associated with all of us ensuring that we leverage a single set of services and infrastructure instead of doing it separately. And that fits in with Better Buying Power as well.
Another major departmentwide effort that you’re involved in is getting your corner of the military ready for audit-readiness requirements. Tell me about what you’re doing under financial management reform and in preparation for the audit-ready deadlines.
In the Army we’re implementing three mock audits — we call them exams. The first [deadline] is the general funds statement of budgetary resources, by fiscal 2015. So we have three practice exams to prepare for that and in each of the exams, the scope increased. The first exam concluded in fiscal 2012 and looked at five GFEBS funds centers at six installations, a half-dozen business processes and selected general ledger accounts within the system.
For exam two, the scope increased to 19 GFEBS funds centers at 10 installations, nine business processes and additional general ledger accounts, also [Defense Finance and Accounting Service] processes as related to GFEBS, and also an assessment of general application controls. That report was finalized a year ago.
In the third exam the scope expanded even more. The actual exam was expected to be complete in December 2013 but was extended; now we’re waiting for that final report.
These are key systems that will allow the Army to achieve audit readiness requirements by 2017, so we’re ensuring we’re developing audit-compliant systems that provide us with the information we need. Our jobs as PMs are to build the right systems and develop and enforce those general controls and process controls to ensure we are and remain auditable across DoD.