WASHINGTON – The procedure to recover lost or damaged property is now digital Army-wide, thanks to an innovation by the Minnesota National Guard to improve its stewardship of property.
“We are moving from a 1977 Pontiac to a 2020 Ford,” says Col. Joe Ricker, G-4’s deputy director for enterprise systems. “It is certainly a big change.”
The change means all Soldiers can now initiate Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss (FLIPL) procedures electronically. The process, called eFLIPL, is similar to using online tax software programs, where users answer questions and the forms are completed in the background.
The Army has billions of dollars of assets in inventories, and ensuring accountability and maintenance of it is not only important but also a challenge. All Soldiers sign for individual equipment, but Soldiers don’t always realize just how expensive the equipment is until it is lost or damaged.
The Army uses the investigations to determine if the loss was caused by negligence or willful misconduct, and if assessing financial liability is appropriate, says Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Johnson, senior logistics staff noncommissioned officer in the G-4’s Property Accountability Division.
Johnson says the process includes several layers of review, can take months and involve many people. “With the electronic system, it will reduce the burden on commanders,” he says. “They will be able to have better oversight. There will be uniformity among all commands. The process will be easier to audit; it will help anyone at any level initiate a FLIPL, and it will let us spot trends to see if policies need to be changed.”
Going digital also has several benefits in a COVID-19 environment, as everything will be paperless and the system will be in a secure cloud. COVID-19 helped speed the process of getting the digital version in place.
eFLIPL also is a great example of the secretary of the Army’s initiative to employ technology to reform the way the Army works. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in October at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference: “The intent is to move the Army from the industrial-age processes to the information age of leveraging data as a strategic asset and utilizing private sector technology.”
Ricker says “eFLIPL drives at the secretary’s intent. It is using Microsoft’s Azure Cloud for FLIPL data availability and making data accessible in a multitude of systems to include Army Vantage.”
Army Vantage, which has been a great help in the COVID-19 response, enables the Army to see itself by providing a common integrated data platform for visualizing current and future states of the Army. The FLIPL team will establish a Vantage Data Connector order to automatically populate the Vantage Commanders’ Dashboard. This will enable commanders to review the units’ eFLIPL actions while reviewing readiness and other important items.
Like many great inventions, eFLIPL started out as a simple idea by one Soldier – Maj. Chris Larson – in the Minnesota National Guard, who wanted to streamline a manual process. Larson had a team from the Minnesota Guard, who helped him build and implement the automated system. The team included Master Sgt. Keith Toenies, Jason Spillum, and Master Sgt. Jeremy Fish.
Their results were immediate. They found it cut administrative errors and inconsistent packets, and reduced the time it took to process the FLIPL.
The system received such good reviews by the Minnesota National Guard that the entire Army National Guard implemented it in October 2018. It has had a positive impact on how lost, damaged or destroyed property is assessed.
According to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Eric Crow, the Army G-4’s division chief for property accountability and policy, the benefits of eFLIPL also spread to the Army Reserve, where 75 percent of its commanders have been trained on its use.
”Everyone has been anticipating the release for some time,” he said, “and a lot of Active component Soldiers have reached out to their Guard and Reserve counterparts to help them train on how to use the system.”
This past year, Army G-4 conducted pilot programs with Soldiers from III Corps units at Fort Hood, Fort Carson, Fort Riley, and Fort Bliss; the 101 st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell; and the United States Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg. Based on their feedback, system managers improved the eFLIPL system so the process can be done seamlessly and without errors.
More than 20,000 people have registered to use eFLIPL. Over the course of the next few months, there will be video training for Soldiers, especially for commanders, judge advocates, and financial liability officers. All Army organizations need to be on the system by Oct. 1.
“In an era when more things are becoming digital, so too are eFLIPLs,” Johnson said. “Today is a great day for property accountability reform.”