Written by Joy Crabaugh.
As the country moves into an increasingly austere budget environment, money-management practices are scrutinized ever more carefully. However, the Coast Guard’s organizational structure and variety of mission areas and assets has created unique challenges for its financial professionals working to ensure money is wisely spent. Lt. Cmdr. Amy Florentino is one of these key players, tracing dollar flow and piecing together the service’s complex financial transaction network.
Previously in command of Coast Guard Cutter Katherine Walker, Florentino was no stranger to situations requiring critical thinking and strong leadership. Florentino, assigned to the Audit/Process Remediation Division, is in charge of a team working to analyze, assess and improve four key financial processes affecting the entire service: actuarial medical liability, accounts receivable, accounts payable and funds balance with treasury. In other words, she was responsible for making sure the Coast Guard as a whole can account for the money it receives, the money it owes and the integrity of its transactions.
Florentino established herself as a driven and dedicated officer who brings people together to accomplish the mission at hand. She demonstrated a remarkable ability to understand and use complex technical data to identify approaches for solving key financial process issues. Her supervisor, Cmdr. Jason Collins, lauds Florentino’s gifts of working with others, managing expectations and bringing about change in a challenging environment. He believes that that one of her greatest strengths is her ability to understand the concerns and difficulties experienced by people at all levels of the Coast Guard and to work with them to arrive at solutions.
“She’s very accommodating,” Collins said. “She’s able to go in, understand and sympathize with a person’s specific concerns and what is going on in their world of work, and look at how we can accommodate that. Amy is extremely good at making sure everybody has a voice at the table and everybody has a say. And then when we are able to identify solutions, we have full buy-in from everyone.”
For years, the Coast Guard was unable to trace where every dollar appropriated from Congress was spent. As a result of its considerable growth in its mission areas and systems, the service found itself faced with integrating all of its disparate financial data.
To address this problem, Florentino, along with key personnel at the Coast Guard’s Finance Center, spearheaded the development of an automated financial reporting system that streamlines monthly and quarterly financial statement preparations. In addition, her team identified processes that significantly reduce the number of monetary discrepancies and errors in the Coast Guard’s financial records. Her team even worked to establish tools and methods that assist individual units in tracking and accounting for their money more accurately—a critical issue for units experiencing painful budget cuts.
“We’re able to go in and help units spend their money better and get a lot more for the same amount of money than in previous years,” Collins said.
Florentino’s colleague, Lt. Cmdr. Colin Campbell, compared the challenge before her to trying to turn around a supertanker, noting that it is tough to change the course of momentum in a large organization. In spite of that, she is helping the service meet the call to exercise sound resource stewardship and assure American taxpayers the Coast Guard effectively uses their money to execute its missions.
“It is becoming more important in today’s fiscal environment and future fiscal environments to be able to document and show that we are doing the right things with our dollars,” Campbell said. “Our effort is to not only be better stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar, but also to help develop and provide information to allow the Coast Guard to more effectively manage and use resources.”
Florentino’s efforts, as well as the rest of her division’s, paid off in November when the Coast Guard was successful for the first time in supporting the Department of Homeland Security in obtaining a qualified audit opinion on DHS’ consolidated balance sheet for fiscal year 2011. In recognition of her superior achievement in helping the Coast Guard obtain a qualified opinion, Florentino was awarded the DHS Chief Financial Officer Award for Superior Mission Achievement in October. While the division received several team awards, Florentino earned the only individual award—an honor her team believes is well-deserved.
“What is this all about? Making a better Coast Guard,” Campbell said. “The audit isn’t the end game—the audit is the catalyst to get us moving in the right direction. Amy has been remarkable at that. She’s a valuable teammate.”