A troubled Air Force business information technology (IT) system critical for getting the service on the path to auditability is now “doing pretty well,” the Air Force’s top civilian said on Nov. 18.

The Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System (DEAMS), identified in fiscal year 2012 as $2 billion over its original cost estimate and 7.5 years behind schedule, was deployed to four additional Air Force bases last month with a goal of expanding capability to all active, reserve and guard units, about 100 in total, by the end of FY ’17. DEAMS contractor Accenture [ACN] was also awarded a pair of $42 million contracts this year to continue work on the program. 

“I wish some things had been done differently when (the Air Force) started DEAMS,” Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said at an Air Force Association (AFA) breakfast in Arlington, Va. “But it’s pretty healthy.” 

DEAMS is a Major Automated Information System that uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to provide accounting and management services like streamlining cost accounting, purchase requests, accounts payable and customer billing. DEAMS also integrates data and processes across the Air Force, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), according to Accenture.

Fanning’s comments should be reassuring to DEAMS backers as he has publicly stated his skepticism of business IT systems. Fanning, in his previous role as the Navy’s deputy under secretary and deputy chief management officer, not only oversaw the cancellation of another business IT program, the sea service’s Future Personnel and Pay System (FPPS), but canceled the program early upon his arrival in 2009.

Fanning said the Navy having options other than FPPS played heavily into his decision to cancel the program. But the Air Force, Fanning said, doesn’t have any alternatives to DEAMS.

“FPPS, we had workarounds if we didn’t have FPPS,” Fanning said. “It’s different in the Air Force…there is nothing (else). If DEAMS isn’t there, we won’t get to auditability and the legacy systems are just not sustainable.” 

The Air Force still risks missing its legally-required Sept. 30, 2014, deadline of having its statement of budgetary resources (SBR) audit-ready, former Air Force Under Secretary Jamie Morin testified to a Senate panel in October. As part of an effort called Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness (FIAR), the FY ’13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires the Defense Department’s SBR to be audit-ready by the end of FY ’14. The FY ’10 NDAA also requires DoD’s financial statements to be audit-ready by Sept. 30, 2017.

Morin, currently Air Force assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, had his nomination to be DoD’s next director of cost assessment and program evaluation (CAPE) approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in October.

DEAMS, when fully implemented, will replace nine stove-piped legacy systems with one integrated financial system, which Accenture says will annually save the Air Force an estimated $18 million in operating costs. At locations where DEAMS was deployed during FY ’13, the Air Force successfully closed those locations’ year-end books using DEAMS. 

“The closeout for the parts of the Air Force that have DEAMS up and functioning was much faster with fewer manual workarounds then what we saw in those that weren’t on DEAMS,” Fanning said on Nov. 18.

Fanning said in September the Air Force was wrapping a report scrutinizing the service’s business IT programs. Fanning said he wasn’t sure when the report would land on his desk, but that he did inquire about the report’s status the week of Nov. 11.

The Air Force’s performance on DEAMS is progress compared to another business IT program called the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS), a logistics and supply chain management system that was canceled in January after $1 billion spent with no apparent military capability. SASC member John McCain (R-Ariz.), during Fanning’s nomination hearing in February, called ECSS “obviously a miserable failure.”