An Appel a day keeps the auditor away

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Settle – Underneath the clock in the sunny office overlooking downtown Seattle, a plain piece of paper hangs on the wall.

In slanted font, a simple message: “Ask why and explain why. Articulation benefits the listener and the speaker.”

This is the motto that Lt. Karen E. Appel, budget officer of the 13th Coast Guard District, lives by.

“We spend a lot of time saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if someone did something?’” said Appel. “Saying is not acting. You could be that someone. You could say, ‘I should do something.’”

Lt. Karen Appel, budget officer of the 13th Coast Guard District, receives the Meritorious Award with the American Society of Military Comptrollers Awards Program in the Accounting and Finance category from Marilyn Thomas, president of the ASMC, during the 2014 Professional Development Institute at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, May 28, 2014. Appel received the award for streamlining the process of accounting for Coast Guard property and operating expenses. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Lt. Karen Appel receives the Meritorious Award with the American Society of Military Comptrollers Awards Program from Marilyn Thomas, president of the ASMC May 28, 2014. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Appel recently received the Meritorious Award in the Accounting and Finance Category from the American Society of Military Comptrollers for her efforts in streamlining the process of accounting for property and expenses.

Appel is responsible for the accounting of approximately $20 million in operating expenses and $10 million worth of property maintained by more than 350 personnel across the 13th Coast Guard District, which encompasses all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

“She takes a personal interest in financial performance of all units in District 13 and makes no distinction between how big or how small a unit is,” said Cmdr. Daniel J. Frank, chief of the 13th Coast Guard District’s resource management division. “She makes time to ensure financial personnel in the fleet know what they’re supposed to do and can do what they’re supposed to do, while at the same time maintaining the big picture of the entire district.”

Appel created a simple checklist for unit field support officers to follow when accounting for property and expenses, a process known as pipeline certification. This allows the user to catch the majority of errors early on in the process. Before Appel developed the checklist and an accompanying website, most errors were not caught until the paperwork landed on her desk days before the deadline.

Not everyone chose to use Appel’s voluntary pipeline certification tool, but many who did found that it made the process easier.

“The pipeline certification tool forces us to make sure what we have left on the books after we close out the fiscal year is as accurate as possible,” said Chief Warrant Officer Sean M. Johannsen, supply officer of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, Washington. “It’s all about accountability and verifying.”

Appel coordinated a live, instructional training on the accountability process. She received positive feedback from users and is making improvements to use it again next fiscal quarter.

“The reason the Coast Guard works and is successful is because it’s full of people as dedicated as Lt. Appel who go above and beyond to make sure they are meeting the mission,” said Frank. “Because of Lt. Appel, the district had a record-setting spend down rate and the district contributed to the Coast Guard overall finally achieving a clean Coast Guard audit.”

Lt. Karen Appel, budget officer of the 13th Coast Guard District, competed against high-performing military and civilian financial officers from all branches of the Armed Forces to earn the Meritorious Award with the American Society of Military Comptrollers in the Accounting and Finance category, which was presented to her in Seattle, May 28, 2014. Appel is also a weightlifting enthusiast who teaches fitness courses and competes in Olympic weightlifting competitions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

Lt. Karen Appel competed against high-performing military and civilian financial officers from all branches of the Armed Forces to earn the Meritorious Award with the American Society of Military Comptrollers in the Accounting and Finance category. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer.

In 2013, the Coast Guard became the first armed service to pass a clean, independent audit opinion.

“We owe it to Congress and the American people to give an accurate description of our financial situation,” Appel said. “I’m glad the Coast Guard is being recognized since we passed the financial audit.”

Outside of work, Appel is an avid fitness enthusiast. She competes in Olympic weightlifting competitions and teaches a class at her gym twice a week.

“If I’m not at work, I’m most likely at the gym,” she said. “If you’re body’s healthy, you’re mind’s healthy and vice versa.”

No matter what she’s doing, Appel is always dedicated to the task at hand.

“Her passion for what she does is infectious,” said Johannsen. “When someone is passionate about something, it makes you passionate. I’m actually excited to come to work again and look at my accounts first thing in the morning.”

Finance officers may not get credit for performing daring rescues at sea, but they play an important role in fulfilling all Coast Guard missions, one penny at a time.

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