Data trust key to improving future DOD audits, Norquist says

David Norquist, the deputy defense secretary and DOD's former comptroller, told Congress DOD needs to use data like the commercial sector.

The Defense Department wants to do more than just talk about data, at least when it comes to budgeting and auditing.

David Norquist, the deputy defense secretary and DOD's former comptroller, told Congress that he wants the organization to run more like a commercial enterprise when it comes to financial and business data. That means being able to analyze tens of billions of DOD transactions and making data more trustworthy, which can speed strategic and budget decision-making.

"When we get audited it goes back to funds Congress appropriated eight or nine years ago because those funds are still available for payment or dispersement," Norquist told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Nov. 20.

"The ability to organize those in a dataset -- to search them, to track them, to be able to find errors -- that allows us to adopt some of the best practices from the private sector ... things you can't do when you don't trust your data."

DOD completed its second organizationwide financial audit Nov. 15. But while the global defense entity failed it as it did in 2018, leadership praised the process for giving rise to new technical capabilities and exposing existing vulnerabilities.

"The next big step is to take advantage of the data we have," Norquist said. "We used to do transactions in blocks, thousands of transactions as a single entry. You can't do that and pass an audit. So we're doing individual transactions."

By switching from block to individual transactions, DOD can now dive deeper into its financial data and analyze spending.

"Now if you want to get after overhead … you can go through those transactions and sort out is this overhead -- as in logistics support and maintenance and essential things -- or is this overhead, as in I hired a consultant and I'm getting something," he said.

As a result of the audit process, DOD developed "a single authoritative source for audit and business data analytics" called ADVANA, a platform that holds more than 15 billion transactions, Norquist said in his testimony.

ADVANA, which DOD used to automate the quarterly review process, also takes in data from more than 120 DOD systems, hosts at least 7,000 users and creates nearly 300 dashboards.

And as DOD continues to have annual audits, it will incorporate more automation, especially as it fields new enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

"What we're looking for here are places where people stop doing it because they didn't have the labor and it was too hard, where the automation solution speeds that up," Norquist said of DOD systems that don't communicate with one another.

"So if you get to the point where you only enter the data once and it flows through the system. There's a lot of labor savings and costs that come out of the way you operate versus manual entries and transfers where they create data errors."

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems.