Interview of The Honorable David L. Norquist: Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer Department of Defense.

Author:Runnels, Al

Conducted October 16, 2017 by Al Runnels, Executive Director, ASMC

Mr. David L. Norquist was sworn in as the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer on June 2, 2017 and serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on all budgetary and financial matters, including the development and execution of the Department's annual budget of more than $600 billion.

Mr. Norquist has over 28 years of experience in federal financial management. Prior to his current role in the Department of Defense he was a Partner with Kearney and Company, a CPA firm that provides audit, accounting and consulting services to the Federal government. His career as a federal employee included providing financial management leadership at virtually every level at which the Federal government spends or oversees the expenditure of money. This includes eight years with the Department of the Army working at Army Headquarters, at a Major Command, and at a field site; five years as professional staff on the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense; and four years as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense in the office of the Comptroller. From 2006 to the end of 2008, Mr. Norquist served as the first Senate confirmed Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Runnels: Secretary Norquist, on behalf of the 17,000 plus members of ASMC, thank you for using your valuable time for this interview. Also, thank you for your dedicated service to our nation--on the Hill, then in DoD and DHS, and now back here in DoD, serving as the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer). Let's start at the strategic level. What is your strategy, including your vision and goals for DoD financial management operations and results?

Secretary Norquist: Sure, Al. Thank you again for taking the time and I appreciate your leadership of ASMC--it's an important organization. I'll mention a couple of things. First, one of the central responsibilities of the Comptroller is to take the Secretary's vision and implement it through the financial management process. When you have the resources to drive the vision, that's part of what makes it real. Our responsibility, as the Department's financial management community, is at every level, whether we're building the budget; working with the Congress; or managing reprogramming during the year of execution. Our responsibility is to ensure the steps we take are consistent with the Secretary's vision to enhance readiness, make the military more lethal, and address the other challenges that he has articulated. That will always be central to our vision.

Second, we must be good stewards of the taxpayers' money. The American taxpayer entrusts us with a very large sum of money--over $600 billion annually. Every one of us has a responsibility to make sure that we're using those funds wisely. We have professional, trained financial managers throughout the world, who are responsible for making sure the funds are certified, and who have done their due diligence on the good use of the money. We have organizations like DCAA who audits contracts to make sure that we're only paying the allowable bills. We have a whole world of internal controls around this. A central function of everything we do is to make sure we are good stewards of the taxpayers' money. Related to that, and probably the one wrinkle that we may spend a little more time on in this interview, is that we're making a significant change in Fiscal Year 2018, as we're going to start the financial statement audit. That puts us on a very different path, both in terms of the reliability and the accuracy of the data, but also in terms of the opportunity to use our data more for decision-making.

Hopefully, we'll spend a little more time on this and the opportunities regarding data analytics, but I believe we have a tremendous opportunity through the audit to change the world of financial management in supporting the decision-making side of the Department by using those tools and that additional information.

The foundation under all of this vision is people. Over the course of my career, I've had the chance to work at a field site overseas; I've worked at a major command; I've worked with one of the Services; I've worked on the Hill, and I've worked here in OSD. So, I can appreciate all the different roles that our financial managers fill, and how their skill set, their experience, and their judgment drives everything I've talked about. Making sure we have a professionalized, trained, and educated workforce is the foundation of implementing the vision.

Mr. Runnels: What is your philosophy concerning the value of DoD financial management related to the overall DoD mission, which you've touched on a bit, and other critical operations; such as, information management, personnel management, acquisition, or logistics?

Secretary Norquist: The value of financial management is two-fold. One is, it's like blood going through the system it's what makes things happen. You have a vision statement, and then financial management turns it into specific items, that then get funded and implemented through the logistics system, or the military personnel system, etc. But you go from vision to budget, through budget execution, to implementation and reality. I think it is the heart and soul of the process in support of everything else. That's really the core of financial management. Its value is in how it makes everything else possible, and how it informs everything else going forward.

Mr. Runnels: Related to your strategy, and your goals, and objectives, what are your major priorities and initiatives related to obtaining the outcomes you desire for DoD financial management activities?

Secretary Norquist: Okay. So this is where I'm going to start with the urgent and slowly elevate my vision as I walk through my list. First and foremost among my priorities is to get an FY18 appropriation. We are under a continuing resolution for the ninth straight year. By the time we're done, we'll have well over a thousand days, three years' worth of CRs in nine years and that's very destructive to our organization. The longer the CR goes the more disruptive it is. So, the first thing to do is to make sure that when we get to the end of the CR or before, we have an enacted FY 2018 bill, with a robust funding level that allows the men and women of our financial community to get back to their regular function which is implementing and supporting that vision and being good stewards.

Second thing is going one year further--the FY2019 budget, we're building that now. One of our challenges is, of course, we're building the FY 2019 budget without knowing the enacted FY 2018 budget. We want to make sure that we've got a robust budget that reinforces and supports the vision of the National Defense Strategy. Of course, the third priority is the audit and using it to drive decision-making.

Mr. Runnels: How would you describe the Department's current relationship with Congress regarding budget and financial operations? If it's not at the level you would like, what activities do you see as necessary to strengthen the relationship and the results derived from it?

Secretary Norquist: Well, I think one of the useful foundations of our relationship with Congress is that we both start from the same place--in the sense that the goals of the committees on the Hill, the goals of the Members--is to ensure we have a strong defense and that we're good stewards of the taxpayers' money. So, we begin with that common starting point. We do everything we can to maintain solid relations with the committees, to share information, to provide them the information...

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