The current procedures for determining liability for property loss and damage have been inadequate. Utilizing modern technology can aid the Army in better deterring property loss. From 2005 to 2006, there was a 17% rise in lost, damaged, or destroyed (LDD) equipment within the Army. In 2007, this trend persisted with a concerning 36% increase in LDD equipment. In fact, since the introduction of the Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss (FLIPL) process, the Army has nearly doubled the rate at which accountability is being lost.
And why should it not double? The word is out: Soldiers and leaders have finally learned that the FLIPL process is virtually useless as a deterrent to property loss. With chapter 13 of Army Regulation (AR) 735–5, Policies and Procedures for Property Accountability, packed with 63 pages of dense legal-ese, just learning how to process a FLIPL is a daunting task—never mind trying to master the process in a combat zone. Soldiers have learned that they have two choices when a piece of equipment comes up missing.
They have the option to sign a Statement of Charges (SOC) and pay a depreciated value for the missing equipment, or they can deny responsibility and leave the task of proving their liability to a staff officer by processing a FLIPL. If the Soldier is found financially responsible for the missing equipment, they will have to pay the same amount as they would have under the SOC. It is clear that the smart choice for the Soldier is to go with the FLIPL every time. The FLIPL process is completely manual and the Army does not provide S–4s with any tools to simplify FLIPL management.
AR 735–5 emphasizes the requirement for all entries to be recorded on the authentic Department of Defense (DD) Form 200, Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss, a total of nine times. Consequently, S-4 shops are tasked with keeping typewriters readily available and clerks occupied with monotonous administrative duties. To enhance the efficacy of FLIPL as a deterrent against property loss, the Army needs to enhance the utilization of technology in the process. By developing an online FLIPL processing tool, technology can facilitate connectivity among participants, automate repetitive procedures, and standardize the execution of FLIPLs.
These applications should work together in one tool that interfaces with Property Book Unit Supply Enhanced (PBUSE) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). The tool could be either a sub-module of PBUSE or a stand-alone system. By tying into PBUSE, the property book officer would be able to assign a document number and track the status of the FLIPL without having to develop his own database. By connecting with DFAS, the command would be able to ensure that service members found to be financially liable are held financially liable before the FLIPL is forgotten by the command. Connecting Participants
Processing FLIPLs involves a significant challenge due to the involvement of numerous individuals in making a decision. At least 11 people, including the initiator, respondent, responsible officer, property book officer, appointing authority, approving authority, investigating officer, legal reviewing officer, respondent’s attorney, unit personnel administrator, and finance officer, will be involved in determining the financial liability of a FLIPL. The actual number of individuals participating in the FLIPL process may be even greater based on the investigation’s complexity.
Communication can be complex and slow when multiple people need to discuss a shared document. Delays in the processing of FLIPL are usually caused by gaps in communication. To address this issue, an automated FLIPL system could utilize participants’ Army Knowledge Online (AKO) email addresses to facilitate automatic communication between them. For instance, after the investigating officer completes their findings, they can simply click a submit button to have the results automatically sent via email to the appointing authority.
This process could utilize digital signatures to eliminate the need for physical signatures on the FLIPL. Utilizing AKO to communicate with participants would remove the necessity of sending certified return receipt mail to Soldiers. The cost of sending a 1-ounce first class certified letter with a return receipt is a minimum of $5.21. Each finding of financial liability, which includes notifying the Soldier at least twice (once by the investigating officer and once by the approving authority), costs the Army $10.2 in postage. By eliminating the use of “snail mail”, communication would be faster and costs would be reduced. Additionally, technology can be applied to provide management tools for effective oversight of the FLIPL process. This may involve an automated Department of the Army Form 1659, Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss Register, as well as other reports for categorizing FLIPLs by age, status, or dollar value.
This chart represents the outcomes of utilizing financial liability investigations to correct hand receipts instead of enforcing the correct usage of paperwork and inventories. Each year, a growing amount of Army equipment is deemed unusable due to deficiencies in the FLIPL process. By automating repetitive procedures, a minimum of six memorandums are generated and circulated when determining financial liability. These documents consist of continuation sheets, the appointment of the investigating officer, a notice regarding the recommendation of financial liability, a notification of the determination of financial liability, and additional items.
Automated document creation in a web-based FLIPL processing system is convenient, as it can generate these documents using participant-provided data. For instance, when the appointing authority chooses an investigating officer, the information provided about the officer can be utilized to produce an appointment memorandum. Moreover, this feature can extend to generating mailing labels for certified mailings.
Another aspect that can be automated is the cost calculations handled by the initiator and investigating officer. This includes automatically inputting the unit price of lost equipment in block 7 to eliminate potential math errors. Additionally, the investigating officer can benefit from automated depreciation calculations. Furthermore, a calculator for determining split liability would be highly valuable when multiple individuals are financially responsible.
Ultimately, there are ways to enhance exhibit management in the FLIPL process. One approach is to allow participants to upload PDF files to the online FLIPL, ensuring that everyone involved has access to the same information. This would prevent any information from being lost due to inadequate recordkeeping. Additionally, a next step could be implementing standardized exhibit letters for mandatory FLIPL documents. For instance, the appointment of investigating officer memorandum could consistently have the same exhibit number across all FLIPLs.
Standardizing Execution Since the participants in FLIPLs often change, recommendations tend to vary significantly depending on the philosophy of the participants. Some initiators offer minimal information, while others offer extensive information. Different investigating officers use different techniques and assign varying importance to certain pieces of information. And, of course, judge advocate general (JAG) officers frequently differ on how to interpret AR 735–5. (Once, a board of 6 JAG officers was given 35 FLIPLs for legal review.)
Multiple lawyers provided contradictory opinions on the legal sufficiency of each individual file. In order to address these conflicts, it is suggested that a web-based FLIPL process be implemented to standardize the execution of the FLIPL. As a starting point, initiators should be given a set of standardized questions to assist them in completing block 9 of the DD Form 200. These questions should cover the following points: (1) When was the equipment last inventoried? (2) Who was directly responsible for the property? and (3) What measures were taken by the command to prevent misplacement of the property?
One way to lower the need for investigators and reduce time and cost is by effectively communicating equipment loss circumstances. Another benefit is that standardized guidance can enhance the performance of investigating officers. To achieve this, officers can participate in an online training session that educates them on their duties, responsibilities, and strategies for fulfilling their role.
To ensure the investigator fully understands their role, it is recommended that a final examination accompanies the first training session. Moreover, to improve the investigator’s recommendation, they should be required to provide a brief explanation and supporting evidence for each aspect of financial liability (such as loss, responsibility, proximate cause, and culpability) used in their findings. Ultimately, implementing a web-based FLIPL processing system would enable the Army to consolidate legal reviews of FLIPLs.
Implementing a web-based FLIPL processing system can enhance the current manual FLIPL process. Instead of having multiple JAG officers conducting legal reviews of a few FLIPLs annually, all FLIPLs can be reviewed by a small staff. This ensures consistent reviews and promotes consistent performance from investigating officers. Additionally, the web-based system enables convenient reinvestigation of FLIPLs with no financial liability, taking advantage of modern technology.
It uses too much manpower and time and leads to inconsistent findings in FLIPLs. This encourages Soldiers to use FLIPLs as a quick way to avoid accountability for missing equipment. When units process manual FLIPLs ineffectively, Soldiers become less diligent in securing Government property. Improving the ease and effectiveness of FLIPL processing will truly promote responsible property stewardship.