Marine Corps Becomes the First Military Branch to Pass a Financial Audit

by Braxton Taylor

The Marine Corps this week became the first military branch ever to pass a complete financial audit, a Defense Department official confirmed Friday, having successfully accounted for more than $46.3 billion in assets and marking the end of a two-year effort.

Independent accountants contracted by the Defense Department issued an “unmodified opinion” on the Marine Corps’ fiscal 2023 financial statement, meaning the information given was as correct as can be proved, the service said.

In 2017, the Marine Corps became the first military service within the Defense Department to undergo a full financial audit, which at the time meant sifting through more than 4,300 sample items and 30,000 documents. Verifying similar items in a 2012 limited audit included a trip to Afghanistan. Ultimately, the service failed to pass either previous attempt.

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In 2023, it meant going to more than 70 sites worldwide to look at thousands of real property assets; more than a million other operating assets, such as vehicle spare parts and weapons and communications systems; and more than 24 million rounds of ammunition — sometimes within Army and Navy stockpiles where the Marine Corps had property stored.

“We had to have documentation for that asset, in addition to the auditors having to view those assets and count those assets,” Gregory Koval, the assistant deputy commandant for resources, said in an interview Friday with Military.com. “So, not just numbers, not just systems, not just data, but they were actually evaluating what we have on hand, what we have on site, and if something was not there, we had to provide them with information to show where it was.”

“We celebrate the tremendous success the Marine Corps achieved in receiving the first clean audit across military branches in DoD,” Cmdr. Tim Gorman, a DoD spokesman, said in an email to Military.com.

This year’s preliminary audit results found that the Marine Corps reduced unsupported, undistributed transactions from $2.2 billion in October 2022 to less than $500,000 in March 2023, thereby supporting “more effective leadership decisions,” Michael McCord, chief financial officer for the Defense Department, said in a press release.

The Corps will hypothetically be able to better focus on modernizing its workforce following the clean audit. According to the Marines’ Force Design plan, that includes evolving from a more traditional ground force to one that frequently deploys unmanned aerial and ground systems, advanced air defenses and anti-ship missiles.

The successful completion of a financial audit may sound like nothing more than a bookkeeping checkoff. But when the Marine Corps passed a limited audit in 2013, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel threw a banquet in the famed Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, a room dedicated to the courageous service members who have received Medals of Honor.

That success was later revoked in 2015 after the Pentagon inspector general said the Marine Corps’ suspense accounts within the Defense Finance and Accounting Service had not been properly assessed. Suspense accounts are where entries are held temporarily while their classification is determined.

Corps leaders made it a personal goal to be able to add “first to pass a full financial audit” to their famous “first to fight” slogan.

“It was a goal of the commandant of the Marine Corps to pass the audit because he wants to show the credibility of the Marine Corps back to the Congress and the taxpayer,” Assistant Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources Edward Gardiner said in a Friday interview. “The benefit to the rest of DoD for the Marine Corps getting a clean opinion today is that we’ve been all the way to the end of the process, and we have lessons learned that we can share with the rest of the department.”

For the DoD as a whole, which has never passed a department-wide audit, a successful one would mean a greater likelihood of a more accurate defense spending budget, as top leadership debates whether more resources should be allocated to recruiting, modernization of weapons or troop pay.

It also will determine how the U.S. can continue to support its allies, McCord said. “Our efforts to track, coordinate and quickly deliver security systems to our allies and partners in Ukraine and now Israel [are] closely related to the work across the DoD enterprise on readiness,” he said.

Overall, the Defense Department claimed $3.8 trillion in assets and $4 trillion in liabilities in its 2023 financial statement audit.

McCord said in November that the Marine Corps was given an extension until March 1 on its audit, as the smallest military branch was serving as a case study for the Pentagon.

“Whatever results of that may be when we get the auditor’s final opinion,” McCord said in November, “I want to commend the USMC and in particular (Marine Commandant Gen.) Eric Smith for their leadership and effort.”

— Rachel Nostrant is a Marine Corps veteran and freelance journalist, with work published in Reuters, New York Magazine, Military Times and more.

Related: After False Start, Marines Aim to Be First Service to Pass Audit

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