On August 15, the PPBE Reform Commission released its interim report which included potential recommendations and findings to date. If enacted fully or even in part, the impact of these findings will be significant for everyone involved with the prioritizing, planning, and funding elements of the PPBE process. This post will highlight the main impact of the recommendations and what individuals can do to start preparing now.
There are five main improvements being sought:
- PPBE business systems and data analytics
- PPBE processes to enable innovation and adaptability
- Alignment of budgets to (broad) strategy
- Capability of the DoD PPBE programming and budgeting workforce
- PPBE-related relationships between the Department of Defense (DoD) and Congress
While the improvements are laudable, getting from where we are today to a better future state is complicated, as anyone involved in the PPBE process can attest.
- Lack of standardization in reporting, analysis, and data. The inability to easily compare requests from subordinate organizations, collect the right information for decision making, or present findings in a consistent manner all delay decision-making and result in investments that may not be aligned to the mission.
- Lack of training. While CPE credits are an important professional responsibility today, attaining them and incorporating them can be difficult. Instead, the DoD should afford more time with structured, comprehensive learning tracks to provide insight into emerging skills to ensure its workforce is the most skilled.
- Empowering front line FMers. As highlighted in the report, other countries have found ways to better empower front-line financial analysts while maintaining oversight. This is a critical step forward but requires analysts to spend less time on manual tasks (thus overcoming compressed timelines) and more time on data analysis while getting necessary training.
- Improving Transparency. Providing insight into how decisions were made and how the budget connects to and supports strategy will be necessary for Congress and leadership to provide FMers with more authority and autonomy. Additionally, some recommended legislative recommendations could provide relief.
- Changing the Culture. The Commission noted that while change agents can – at times – find workarounds to solve problems, individuals seeking to create change are far too often stymied by a cultural resistance to change and aversion to risk. The Commission, with the recommendations above – believe this could change and those driving innovation would be rewarded.
The impact of improving PPBE business systems and data analytics
The Commission noted that defense business system transformation is critical to reforming, accelerating, and providing agility to the PPBE process. However, many PPBE systems and communication approaches remain antiquated, such as transmitting PDF documents and hard copies without an emphasis on using more efficient technology.
Impact on You – Fewer Manual Tasks, More Analysis
Consolidating systems and investing in broadly available technology across the DoD can reduce confusion resulting from the spectrum of today’s unstructured mix of antiquated databases, commercial systems, and proprietary platforms.
It is important for leaders at all levels to have access to standardized data and tools for analysis that will allow them to make real-time trade-offs for resourcing decisions. At the same time, increased automation and informed workflows with appropriate checks and balances will enable personnel to spend their time on more meaningful analytic tasks, rather than endlessly searching for information.
The result will be an empowered DoD workforce that can address changing conditions at speed and scale by leveraging broadly adopted tools using real-time data. To make this a success, organizations must avoid modifying commercial software to preserve embedded best practices, ease adoption as employees move from department to department, and lower total cost of ownership.
The Impact of improving PPBE processes to enable innovation and adaptability
The rigidity of the current PPBE process limits the Department’s ability to respond to changing conditions. The Commission frequently heard Program Managers (PM) say they did not have the needed agility in the year of execution to ingest new technology and innovation or pivot effectively to an unplanned requirement without disrupting already committed resources.
The rush toward year-end funding for use or lose funds drives less than optimal year-end spending decisions and does not provide contracting officials enough time to create quality contracts. Reprogramming is helpful in that it allows for money to be moved, but unhelpful in that it is excessively time-consuming. Recommendations were made about changing re-programming limits, which would be important for adding agility during the year of execution.
Impact on You – More Mission Aligned Spend
The overall goal is to unencumber people from the rigidity which exists today. While workarounds exist only the most adept senior DoD officials can cut through the bureaucracy to jump-start important initiatives.
There are three important elements for Financial Managers and Planners to provide maximum agility to the DoD.
- Understand your role relative to the mission. To ensure spending is aligned to the mission, individuals must have a better sense of the broad and specific mission they play a role in and how individual investments factor in.
- Maintain a living unfunded priorities list. Having a list of unfunded requirements – prioritized by alignment to mission – ensures there is agility in re-allocating funds throughout the year of execution.
- Know where your spending is throughout the year. Financial Managers must always know where spend is relative to obligations to strategically plan the next dollar.
The above will demand new processes, advanced technology, and cultural shifts but will ultimately deliver more compelling work for the individuals closest to spending decisions.
The Impact of improving the Capability of the DoD Programming and Budgeting Workforce
Departments are understaffed but still required to continue doing the work of a fully staffed department. According to the report – at CAPE – 12 to 18 percent of their positions currently remain unfilled as of the first quarter of FY 2023.
The considerable stress on the workforce, along with seemingly endless crises such as funding for support to Ukraine, means there is little downtime for training, leave, and a reasonable work-life balance, leading to recruiting and retention challenges.
In many ways the challenges are self-fulfilling. Long hours, manual tasks, and weekend work all make filling roles more difficult, which puts even more pressure on current staffers. However, integrating automation removes some of the manual tasks while investing in training on emerging capabilities, which can ease the burden and make roles more attractive to applicants.
By working closely with industry, employees can learn new skills and suggest process improvements that would benefit their organizations. Decision Lens has been partnering with the Army Comptroller school on just such an initiative. Read about it in Driving Decision Advantage: Decision Lens and Army Finance & Comptroller School Partnership.
Overall, there seems to be real momentum behind reform, and we believe the time for change is now. That said, there are several realities which must be addressed that, in many cases, would help accelerate transformation.
- Acknowledge the ongoing need for oversight. The report acknowledges that any changes must respect Congress and its oversight. This means any new processes, technology, or other changes must be done in a way that provides assurance to Congress that they are not being disintermediated.
- Fix your data issues. Data is a mess and shared in antiquated ways. Individuals in their organizations can begin addressing this today by understanding what data is actually being used and then make recommendations on how to best organize and structure it for better, faster mission-aligned decisions.
- Be the (cultural) change. The biggest threat to reform is an unwillingness to embrace it. Change agents must battle the risk-averse “we’ve always done it this way” approach and leaders must promote the notion that change can be good.
- Evaluate and advocate for commercial software. Even the most enthusiastic individual will ultimately need new software to transform their organization. Identify your biggest gaps, evaluate what solutions exist, and accept that better processes may come with the solution you pick. Then evaluate, advocate, and adopt.
Decision Lens software is well positioned to help enact many of the long-term reforms suggested by the Commission and to drive change today with the shorter-term improvements you can make right now.