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The Importance of Property Accountability and Readiness

by Jakob Hutter

From helmets to Humvees, property accountability is a critical aspect of sustaining operational readiness. Property accountability refers to an organization’s ability to effectively track, manage, and report on equipment and assets. At the company level and below, leaders and subordinates are crucial in being good stewards to care for the property entrusted to them to execute missions and maintain readiness. The following article will explore why property accountability is important and how leaders can maintain and sustain it to optimize their readiness.

The Department of Defense policy states that all persons entrusted with the management of government property are expected to possess and demonstrate a high level of competency in property management, while adhering to ethical standards. They are also responsible for the appropriate use, care, physical protection, and disposal of all government property in accordance with policies and procedures. Additionally, this responsibility includes the appropriate disposition of government property, following applicable laws and regulations. For the Army, the property accountability policies are found in Army Regulation (AR) 735-5 and AR 710-2.

For organizational leaders, ADP 6-22 (Army Leadership and Profession) indirectly relates to property accountability by highlighting the importance of leadership and the ethical conduct of Army leaders. Leaders are responsible for establishing a culture of responsibility, setting standards, and ensuring compliance with property accountability regulations and procedures. By embodying the principles and values outlined in ADP 6-22, leaders can create an environment that prioritizes the proper management and control of Army property.

The importance of property accountability cannot be overstated. At the organizational level, leaders must know what property they have and where it is to ensure it is maintained and be successful in accomplishing their mission. Appropriate property accountability ensures military personnel have access to the equipment and supplies needed to carry out their duties. The below table outlines the Army’s five types of responsibility–command, supervisory, personal, custodial, and direct–for property according to AR 735-5.

Figure taken from the U.S. Army Command Supply Discipline Program (CSDP) “How-to” Reference Handbook

On the other hand, lost and damaged equipment can negatively impact military readiness and operational effectiveness. A lack of essential equipment and supplies can delay or even cause a mission to fail. Financially, it could be costly to replace that equipment when funds could be better allocated in other crucial areas. Accounting for the circumstances that surround the loss, damage, or destruction (LDD) of Government property would require that a Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss (FLIPL) be initiated to document a property book adjustment.

Proper Accountability in War and Peace

The effect of proper accountability and its influence on readiness can be emphasized through the aftermath of war. According to research conducted by Paul Fenema and Ton Kampen, the reestablishment of proper accountability after a military operation poses significant challenges for operational planners and logisticians, as evidenced by strategic exits from Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Three lessons that impacted our strategic exits were implementing a clear command and control structure, contractors used to support logistic services understanding property accountability systems and being held to the same accountability standards as units, and that container management requires visibility to overcome logistic challenges. The research highlights, in part, that property accountability is not just the responsibility of logisticians in the organization to understand and be accountable for, especially when it comes to successfully exiting a theater of operations or even a field training exercise.

Considering this research, the factors that can affect property accountability are leadership, technology, and training. First, effective leadership is fundamental in building a great organizational culture. Leaders reinforce values and hold people accountable. In promoting property accountability, input from commanders at all levels must enforce the standards to have a successful Command Supply Discipline Program (CSDP) that complies with the Department of the Army’s supply policies and procedures. When the CSDP program is not emphasized or lacks leadership, a waste of time, money, and resources is sure to follow.

As for technology, the most recent property accountability system is the electronic Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss (eFLIPL). Initially starting off as a National Guard program, all Army components use this web-based application to improve accountability and visibility of the FLIPL process. Standardizing this system is one aspect of modernization of the Army to leverage data effectively while reducing administrative errors, inconsistent packets, and time to complete the FLIPL process. However, this system is only as good as the training and awareness users have of property accountability.

Finally, regarding training, specifically as CSDP is a commander’s program, commanders should be at the forefront for counseling and ensuring their subordinate officers and non-commissioned officers understand the organization’s standards and be able to enforce them well. Tailoring training topics to the organization’s needs can include understanding of the types of property and responsibility, hand receipts, property layouts, eFLIPL process, and conducting inventories. In addition, milSuite provides a wealth of information and tools to enhance property accountability.

Best Practices in Command Supply Discipline

There are several best practices that organizations can implement to ensure proper tracking and management of equipment and supplies. First, having the discipline to conduct annual and reoccurring inventories (monthly, quarterly, and annually) is vital to maintain accurate accountability. It provides unit commanders the ability to capture and correct any discrepancies early to ensure the physical inventory matches the inventory on record.

Second, proper record keeping at both the individual and organizational level is important as it directly impacts readiness. Organizational leaders should work with their Property Book Officer (PBO) and unit Supply Sergeant to keep good documentation that is neat, organized, and accessible. This provides the unit to establish custodial responsibility and inventory control that ensures accountability of the unit’s property. In addition, it provides the commander the awareness to identify logistical strengths and weaknesses within the unit. If not established, it can be likely that a unit’s CSDP will be inaccurate and full of deficiencies.

Finally, an organization’s ability to have an effective CSDP can be linked to the type of culture that exists within the unit. Just as commanders would not risk failure of a mission by failing to train their soldiers to standard, so should emphasis be taken to ensure property accountability standards fail. Organizational leaders must uphold standards and ensure their soldiers are trained, confident, and supportive in carrying out the commander’s expectations.

Organizational leaders must be actively engaged with their subordinates through proper training, manning, and awareness to be ethical stewards of Government property. How well property is managed and accounted for affects how well an organization can perform its mission over time. Poor property accountability can impact an organization with severe consequences if it is unsure if it has the resources it needs to complete its mission – and that is a risk no soldier should have to take.

CPT Jakob Hutter is a Kansas Army National Guard logistics officer currently serving as a Plans Officer for the 169th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Leavenworth, Kansas. In addition, he also serves as the Kansas FLIPL Program Manager. He has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and received his commission from Kansas State University in 2016. He is passionate about the science of Army logistics, the art of military leadership, and combining both to provide effective sustainment.Cover Photo Credit: Cover of U.S. Army, Commander’s Handbook for Property Accountability, 1980, Illustrated

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