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Financial Liability in the Command Supply Discipline Program

 

 

 
 
   
   
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(Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Tina R. Eichenour, 38th Sustainment Brigade)

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If there were ever an Army program keeping company commanders awake at night, the Command Supply Discipline Program (CSDP) is a contender. The primary goal of the CSDP is efficient management of property1—the vehicles, weapons, equipment, parts, and other items commands use and for which they are responsible.2 The CSDP is a rather rigorous program with enforcement at several echelons of command, numerous interested parties, and, importantly for us—legal applications that depend heavily on subjective analysis. As such, judge advocates (JAs), in a variety of billets, should be aware of the regulatory guidance and local command expectations with respect to the CSDP. Legal assistance attorneys will encounter outgoing company commanders after change-of-command inventories identify property losses within their ranks.3 Meanwhile, brigade judge advocates (BJAs) and command legal advisors will advise their commanders and staff on the same legal actions throughout the investigation and disposition. This article will detail the CSDP, discussing its regulatory background and policies, then explain context for JA involvement and an analytical framework as applied to financial liability.

Regulation and Policy of the CSDP

When advising clients on CSDP matters, start with Army Regulation (AR) 735-5, Property Accountability Policies,4 and AR 710-2, Supply Policy Below the National Level.5 These regulations create the initial framework for analyzing CSDP issues. Understanding the associated policy concerns of property accountability will assist JAs in knowing with which fellow staff sections to network and analyze issues. These policy concerns include the following: establishing supply discipline, standardizing supply discipline requirements, unifying a list of such requirements, and increasing efficiency in monitoring subordinate commands.6

If supply discipline is a priority for the command, practitioners can expect to find local policy memoranda on the matter. Some installations have a supplement to AR 735-5, but brigade and battalion policy letters usually provide the bulk of supplementary guidance for commanders and staff. The breadth and depth of such policies vary, but they generally give company commanders guidance on how to execute change-of-command inventories and clarify the role of supporting staff in the process. There may be provisions governing mandatory in- and out-briefs with superior commanders and key staff. Properly negotiating these wickets is both a baptism by fire for incoming commanders and the path to freedom for their outgoing counterparts. Before diving into the more specific legal concerns, JAs should be aware of the practical context behind CSDP matters.

Context of CSDP Issues

First, what type of CSDP questions typically require a JA’s input? The most common are financial liability investigations of property loss (FLIPLs)7—specifically, those that occur after company-level change-of-command inventories.8 Commanders, generally at the brigade level and higher, frequently direct legal reviews of command policy memorandums prior to signature and publication.9 This is especially true for policies implicating Soldiers’ rights and pocketbooks, such as supply discipline.10

Second, who are the interested parties with respect to the CSDP? Army Regulation 735-5 succinctly states that the “CSDP is a commander’s program.”11 The regulation lists superior commanders’ duties, including implementing local CSDP policies and designating staff personnel to assist in monitoring and inspecting the CSDP.12 Commander involvement in CSDP-related FLIPLs will be similar to other FLIPLs at the appointing and approving authority levels,13 with the added possibility of a company commander as the respondent.14 Staff interactions abound as well. Regulatory guidance to the Army G4 regarding CSDP responsibilities15 flows down the technical chain, so that installation and unit logistics shops (G4/S4) have a stake in a competent local CSDP.16 Brigade-level S4s will also have a property book officer (PBO)—a warrant officer subject matter expert (SME) who runs property accountability, supervises lateral transfers between units, and adjusts property discrepancies for the command, among other responsibilities.17 Operations sections (G3/S3), working with logistician counterparts, will operationalize supply discipline through fragmentary order provisions mandating staff assistance, inspections, and lateral transfers.18 Networking with these sections, especially the PBO, will assist JAs in both crafting investigative plans for financial liability officers (FLO) and reviewing FLIPLs for legal sufficiency.

Intersection of the CSDP and Financial Liability

The remainder of this article will focus on legal analysis related to the CSDP, through the lens of a BJA conducting a hypothetical FLIPL legal in-brief. A FLO has come to the BJA’s office after receiving appointment orders to investigate the loss of numerous items recently unaccounted for during a change-of-command inventory. The FLO tells the BJA that the battalion executive officer (XO) and S4 both expressed concern about apparent company-level deficiencies in property management. How should the FLO proceed?

The BJA should consider highlighting the different types of responsibility when discussing the elements of financial liability. As applied, there is the potential liability of the outgoing commander (command responsibility) or even the company XO (supervisory responsibility stemming from usual duties of overseeing the arms, supply, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear, and communications rooms).19 Next, a review of specific company-level CSDP duties is useful, with the caveat that the FLO should seek technical input from the battalion/brigade S4 shops, including the PBO.20 As part of this review, the BJA should remind the FLO of table 2-2 in AR 710-2, when relevant for a given investigation:

  • Execution of primary hand receipt holder change (when company commanders “high five” in front of the PBO, officially handing off command responsibility);
  • Annual inventories (if locally approved, this will account for approximately 10% of company property monthly, such that all property is accounted for each year);
  • Monthly sensitive item inventories (e.g., weapons, night vision goggles, certain Global Positioning System devices, etc.);
  • Supervision of and by company-level supply leaders (company XO, supply sergeant, armorer, etc.);
  • Appointment and use of subordinates, such as platoon leaders, as primary hand receipt holders;
  • Use and documentation of discretionary inventories (e.g., post-field exercise layouts of property that went to the field);
  • Accountability after receipt, turn-in, and issue of property (including use of DA Forms 2062 and 3161);
  • Accountability during change of custodial responsibility (supply sergeant and armorer); and
  • Whether and when property discrepancies were reconciled with the PBO.21

Fortunately, most FLOs have been assigned to companies with assigned property and are likely familiar with much of the above. Army Regulation 710-2, Appendix B, lists many other technical and supervisory requirements for commands and G4/S4 shops. Although these may be relevant for a given FLIPL, the above bullets should provide adequate guidance for the typical CSDP-related investigation.

Analyzing the elements of financial liability is a significant challenge when scrutinizing a commander’s CSDP execution. No matter how detailed the FLIPL findings are, the FLO will almost certainly encounter difficulty in assessing culpability and proximate cause. As the above bullets demonstrate, sound property accountability depends on several personnel even at the company level. And, unfortunately, the regulation provides no clear answer on how to reconcile the nuances of systemic CSDP successes and failures, when so many actors are involved. Without resolving this issue here, FLOs should always return to the AR 735-5 definitions of “culpability” and “proximate cause,” as well as consult with superior commanders and supporting staff to better understand property accountability “culture” in the organization.22

Legal advisors will rarely encounter the matter of potential financial liability at echelons of command higher than a company. But nothing in AR 735-5 limits command or supervisory responsibility to the company level.23 In fact, regulation mandates supply discipline duties for all commanders.24 Assessment of culpability and causation at higher levels may require a more in-depth investigation and detailed analysis, as well as substantial staff coordination. If such scrutiny appears to be necessary, JAs should be the honest broker in the room in recommending a more senior FLO. Even if the approving authority does not impose financial liability on superior commanders and senior staff officers, the investigation can serve as the basis for other administrative action and even systemic improvements in supply discipline at the higher echelon.25

Conclusion

Understanding the CSDP will facilitate our legal advice to commanders, staff, FLOs, and legal assistance clients. Judge advocates do not require in-depth knowledge with respect to equipment operational capabilities, line item coding in property systems, and the like. But, a baseline understanding of why the CSDP is a command priority, the roles of fellow staff SMEs, and company-level inventory processes (who, what, when, how, and why) are all force-multipliers. For additional reading on the CSDP, including war stories and best practices, JAs should reference the Center for Army Lessons Learned Handbook No. 10-19, as well as online articles and videos referenced below.26 TAL

 


MAJ Burnham is the Chief of Justice, 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Hawaii, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.



Notes

1. See U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 735-5, Property Accountability Policies para. 11-2a (9 Nov. 2016) [hereinafter AR 735-5].

2. See id., Glossary, sec. II (definitions of “equipment” and “organizational property”).

3. See U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 710-2, Supply Policy Below the National Level tbl. 2-2a (28 Mar. 2008) (listing inventory requirements for a change of primary hand receipt holder) [hereinafter AR 710-2].

4. AR 735-5, supra note 1.

5. AR 710-2, supra note 3.

6. AR 735-5, supra note 1, para. 11-2a.

7. Id., ch. 13; see also AR 710-2, supra note 3, App. B, Sec. III.

8. See AR 710-2, supra note 3, tbl. 2-2a. In the author’s experience, local policies provide guidance on executing change-of-command inventories. There is generally a pre-inventory and actual inventory in which the incoming and outgoing commanders account for each piece of company property, which subordinate platoons have laid out for them. On a related note, any Financial Liability Investigation of Property Loss (FLIPL) could implicate the Command Supply Discipline Program. Most FLIPLs, however, are due to an acute incident of loss at the operator or supervisor level. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, para. 13-29a (definitions of supervisory and personal responsibility). These incidents are generally unlikely to involve the more systemic concerns of a commander’s responsibility to enforce the CSDP. See id., para. 13-29a(2).

9. Such as open-door policies, equal opportunity policies, etc.

10. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, para. 13-43.

11. Id., para. 11-1b.

12. Id.

13. Id., para. 13-17.

14. See id., Glossary, sec. II.

15. AR 710-2, supra note 3, para. 1-10a.

16. See id., para. 1-10f.

17. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, Glossary, sec. II (defining “accountable officer”).

18. See U.S. Dep’t of Army, Field Manual 6-0, Commander and Staff Organizations and Operations para. 2-50 (11 May 2014) (incorporating C 1).

19. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, paras. 2-8a(1)-(2), 13-29a(2)-(3).

20. If the higher command suspected company leadership negligence with respect to the CSDP, then a financial liability officer with prior command experience may already be appointed. See id., para. 13-27 & tbl. 13-1.

21. See AR 710-2, supra note 3, tbl. 2-2.

22. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, paras. 13-29b-c.

23. See AR 735-5, supra note 1, paras. 2-8a, 13-29a.

24. Id., para. 1-4d(2).

25. See id., para. 13-32c.

26. Ctr for Army Lessons Learned, Small Unit Leader’s Guide to: The Command Supply Discipline Program Handbook No. 10-19 (Jan. 2010), https://quartermaster.army.mil/oqmg/Call_Handbook_10-19.pdf; see, e.g., Chief Warrant Officer (W-3) Anthony L. Rawlings, Establishing Command Supply Discipline After Deployment, Army Logistician, Jan.-Feb. 2006, at 42, https://alu.army.mil/alog/issues/JanFeb06/discip_deploy.html; Charles Holmes, Army Command Supply Discipline Program AR 710-2, CSDP Monitor, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GdMuIBmXRM.